Mary Ward, originally from Youghal, Co. Cork has been living in Donegal for 35 years. She’s best known in Dungloe and surrounding areas for her work as a nurse and as a member and chair of the Mary From Dungloe organising comittee.
After completing her nursing training at Guy’s Hospital in London, Mary moved to Dublin, where she trained in mid-wifery at the Rotunda and went on to work for a number of years at the Adelaide. It was while in Dublin that she met her late husband Pat, and the couple soon moved to Dungloe. They had two daughters, Fodhla, who lives in Dublin and is a civil servant, and Eire, who works in MABS in Letterkenny.
Mary initially worked at the District Hospital in Dungloe. When the maternity unit there was closed, however, she learned that the Ambulance Service needed a midwife, so she applied and got that job. She loved it so much that she stayed in that job for 34 years, until she took early retirement last year.
“Nursing, especially midwifery and maternity, was something I always wanted to do. I absolutely loved it, especially working in the ambulance, as I got to know so many people from all over the area. It was wonderful to deliver so many babies and to get to know families through generations. People come up to you and thank you when you’re out and about and it’s a good feeling to think that you’re appreciated.”
Mary’s involvement with the Mary From Dungloe Festival all stems from a phone call from Charlie Boyle ‘The Yank’. “When Pat Nora stood down as Director and Charlie took over, he rang me one evening asking if I would go up to Sweeney’s for the County Final and sit with the Marys, just to help put them at their ease.
“That was the start of it. I ended up as the Chaperone for the Marys for that festival, and I went on to do that for ten years.
Ups and downs
“Of course there were masses of incidents that I recall but the one that really makes me laugh was from a Festival when Gerry Kelly was compere. He asked one of the contestants, who was from Northern Ireland, what she thought about the Peace Process and what it would mean to her. She said ‘It’s great, Marks & Spencer will come into Derry!’
“On an entirely different note, one thing I will never forget is the atmosphere in Dungloe about five or six years ago when we’d just come back from the Crowning Ceremony and word came through that Joyce Campbell had been killed in a car accident in Ethiopia. Joyce was only 28 and had worked with the festival. She was so bubbly and such a personality, I think everyone in the town knew her. She had gone over to work on an aid project organised by Fr Michael McCullough, a local priest.
Joyce’s brother Keith had been playing in the band, the Motley Crew, that night when we got the news. I can’t explain the pall that fell over the whole event. Everyone was so shocked and saddened.
“But mostly, the memories are very happy ones. I remember one year when we asked secondary schoolchildren what band they wanted to see. They said The Revs, so we booked them. During the gig, the kids were pounding away so hard that the floor in the Dome started to give way. It just kind of parted - there was nobody in any danger, fortunately. But, instead of calming it all down, the Revs started playing ‘Floor no more! Floor no more! Floor no more!”
“We had to close the Dome then and hold the Festival in the Ostan the next year, then it was back to the Dome until moving to its current home, the Ionad Spoirt Na Rosann.
“Other highlights would be: whenever a Dungloe Mary wins - that’s always extra special for the local community; when Bonny Baby winners like Shirley McGlynn come back and win the Mary From Dungloe Festival; and, of course, Daniel O’Donnell’s involvement with the festival - his performances, the tea parties in Kincasslagh and his wonderful work as a compere. I got to know a lot of of his fans as they waited for him to meet them after his shows. Sometimes he’d stay chatting with them until 3 in the morning. And we often feel that Julia is our mother as well, because she’s always asking after the Marys and remembers them all so well.
“As the years went on, I became involved in other aspects of the Festival and committee work, until I found myself as Chairperson/Director of the Festival in 2001, for five years until the 40th. That was a great festival. We’d been working up to it for a long number of years, trying to contact former members and we had a great night, in the Ostan. Both the late Judy Lee, festival treasurer for many years, and Kevin Bonner, who is still involved with the festival, put in a tremendous effort that year especially. It certainly paid off. Coincidentally, a film was screened at the Festival on Tuesday night with footage from the 40th.
“After the 40th, the entire committee stepped down to make way for new people with new energy and new ideas. That turned out to be a great move, because a new committee came in and re-energised it, brought in new acts and new activities. One of the big things they did was to form different committees. It was very hard to try to do everything with the one committee. Now there is a finance committee, a Marys committee and a fundraising committee. We’re also delighted to have Emma McGarvey, our new overall festival director, who has made a wonderful contribution and given it a lift again this year.
“I’ve made many friends over the years on the festival committees. There’s a lot of work involved - you fall in and you fall out - but there is a great camaraderie and you always end up friends. We’ve always been very, very lucky in that the people who worked on the festival committees before us helped us out in so many ways. And we are so grateful for the traders in the town. It’s their support which has made the festival happen every year - special mention in this regard to Failte Ireland, Randox Teo, SuperValu and The Cope.
The festival is never just about one person, it’s about the team that all works together and how practically every group in the town, from the GAA to the Fire Brigade, all get involved in running events.
“I feel that I’ve gotten a lot of joy out of my association with the Mary From Dungloe Festival. We’ve had wonderful times out of it. I think it’s a marvellous reflection on the people of Dungloe that they’ve been able to sustain a 10-day festival of this size and scope for 45 years.”