THE people of Kilmolin and beyond joined the family of Lily Kavanagh to celebrate her rich life, and everything she did for others in so many ways during her busy 92 years.
The award-winning Life President of Wicklow Community Games, Lily Kavanagh was born in 1927 in Glencullen. She spent most of her life in Wicklow but was always proud of her Dublin roots and, as anyone passing through Kilmolin would learn, she never failed to fly the Dublin flag at Championship time.
To some who knew her she was Lil, to others Lily, to many Mrs Kavanagh, but to her loving family she was mammy Lil and nana.
She had a very happy childhood raised with her younger sister Jennie by their parents James and Jane. From trips to Croke Park with her father to cycling to dances in Roundwood and the Scalp, Lil’s love of sport and her zest for living was evident from an early age.
Her nickname in those days was ‘Smiler’ and perhaps it was that smile along with her sense of humour which drew her husband Robert to her all those years ago.
Lil always spoke of how blessed she was to have met and married her late husband Robert. They went on to have 10 children and she never took for granted their health and happiness. They all adored her, as did her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
With 15 years between Lily’s oldest and youngest, there were just six years when all 10 children lived under the same roof. While things can’t have been easy with that many mouths to feed, Lily and Robert did what needed doing without an fuss and created a very loving and secure home for all of them.
Summers seemed endless and full of fun. Days were spent going to the river and the seafront, collecting whatever child stuck their head into the car on their way past. They loved their annual day out to Butlins with the children’s favourite bottle of fizz and biscuits, not to mention the trips to the cinema or the zoo to celebrate a Confirmation or a Communion.
Lily had a wonderful sense of community. That was what she was all about and Lil was involved in the ICA and Charabanc, organising trips to Our Ladies Ireland and Oxfam. Of course, she was also one of the founder members of Community Games in County Wicklow in the early 1970s.
Lil maintained that she got more than she gave from all of those. She lived for every day, every new experience, and meeting new people, young and old.
Whether it was at the finish line in Shillelagh or the side line in Parknasillogue, Lil was there to support, encourage and chat to each and every person there.
It was fitting that last weekend so many celebrated Lil’s life, as it was always her favourite weekend of the year – the Wicklow Community Games finals.
For over 40 years, Lil travelled up glen and down dale from meetings in Glendalough to gym halls in Arklow, drinking tea and chatting in every cold community hall this side of Texas.
A lot of people don’t get to hear how highly regarded they are in their community, but it was great for both Lil and the family that she could hear how loved and celebrated she was when she was awarded the Community Games Golden Jubilee Volunteer Award in 2017.
For all of her work and dedication to the community, she was fully supported by her patient husband Robert. When asked where Lil was or when she could be expected home, his response was said to be: ‘Not if I was the wisest man in Ireland could I tell you that’.
But Robert knew exactly where she was when he needed her most. In his later years, when his eyesight began to fail, Lil acted as his eyes and ears – not that he was particularly interested in the latest Community Games AGM. But they were a great team and looked after each other to the very end.
Renowned for her sense of humour, Lil expressed more with a look than she ever needed words to do. Her ability to send people into convulsions with one look while remaining straight faced herself was one of her most impressive talents, and something many of her loved ones fell victim to over the years. This sense of humour and razor sharp wit never left her, and sitting around Lil’s kitchen table was often better than a night out at the Gaiety.
Ahead of her time, Lil learned to drive on a tractor and was behind the wheel until the age of 88.
She wanted to learn to text and gave it her best shot. She raised 10 kids while running a shop and also recognising the need for a community games in Wicklow.
Lil had so much go in her. She was attending matches in Croker well into her 80s to support her beloved Dubs, and often claimed that one of the highlights of her life was Stephen Cluxton’s last minute winner against Kerry in 2011. She went home on a high, re-watched the match, and went to bed still able to see the players running around the pitch in her head.
While good it was to see them on the big screen, nothing compared to meeting them in person on her own stomping ground. One summer evening, Lil sat at home not feeling the best. Suddenly the phone call came, Heather was at down at the GAA pitch. ‘Are you coming down nana?’ ‘Ah I’m not up to it tonight.’ ‘What if I told you the Dubs were about to start training on the pitch?’
‘Rosie get your coat,’ said Lil. And off she went.
She had brilliant days out with her friends, even the simplest trip to Bray to get their hair done and a bite to eat was full of laughter. That was just Lil, she saw the best in every day and the glass was always half full. If there was one thing to take from her outlook on life, it was try to see the flowers rather than the weeds.
So many have lost a dear friend in Lil. She touched so many lives, and in return received so much from others. She trusted Dr Matthews fully with her health. Even on her dark days, he gave her the confidence and ability to continue to fight. Even when her physical health declined, her mind never got old.
Life always throws up challenges, but Lil showed everyone how to roll with the punches. Her faith was very strong and however sad they are, her children can take comfort that she lived a great life. She gave all she was able to give. Her work here was done and she was ready to reunite with Robert.
Lily’s funeral Mass was celebrated on Sunday at The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Enniskerry and was followed by interment in St Mochonog’s Cemetery, Kilmacanogue.
She is sadly missed by her devoted children Richard, Margaret, James, Robby, Noel, Jane, Paul, Rosemary, Brendan and Gary, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephew, extended family, neighbours and many friends.
The late Lily Kavanagh.