Born in Cappatagle, Ballinasloe, Bernadette Rothwell is second youngest of nine children of Bartly and Ellen Monahan, she attended Cappatagle National School followed by five years in the Loreto Boarding School, Navan.
Bernadette then trained as a nurse in the Mater Hospital, Dublin. In her time training as a nurse, she recalls the excitement of her first wages, earning 13 shillings for the month! Bernadette later completed further training in Cardiff, practising in respiratory care.
Bernadette spoke fondly of her husband who she married in 1955: “When I met Alec, he lived with his parents in a beautiful home above the shops with a large garden at the back. Alec’s father had greenhouses with vines, tomatoes and fruit, flowers and veg in Dunlo Street. Mrs Rothwell sold the grapes to Haslam and Mahon in Main Street. Rothwell auctioneers were established in 1896 by Edward Rothwell, Alec’s grandfather."
In her younger days, the town depended very much on the farming community to support its economy. "The land leases in earlier times were for 11 months, a lot less practical than today. The October Fair was a wonderful time to show their stock for sale or exhibit them in competition and their wives their produce likewise. It was a social event that enabled surrounding villages to get together and have fun enjoying all the strangers from everywhere that visited” she recalls.
“The psychiatric hospital provided great employment. Dubarry was ahead of their time with a lot of the workers doing the work in their own homes, just like now. Denis McCarthy from the IDA brought a lot of factories to the town which was an enormous boost for the area”, recounts Bernadette.
She worked with Alec in the auctioneering business, gaining a vast knowledge of the farming land in the area. She represented a lot of farmers in the courts, when the land commission was compulsory taking up their land to ensure they got a fair price for their estates.
Bernadette stated: “I got to know lots of families as they bought, sold, and leased their property. We managed the E.B.S. Building Society for twenty years in Ballinasloe.”
She also was very much involved with Alec in breeding rare breeds of cattle and enjoyed her time showing and attending pure Hererford events around Ireland, UK including a trip to a World event in South Africa.
Bernadette has seen many of the wonderful facilities Ballinasloe has had on offer over the years recalling watching her children ( Mary and Jane ) grow up with the Irish ballet/dancing school in the Parochial Hall next to where they live in Dunlo Hill. Bernadette was able to watch many of the ballet performances at the Hayden’s Hotel.
“It was a wonderful place for all the social outings which took place in the past. The town band are the new occupants of the Parochial Hall and I am so looking forward to hearing music coming from that lovely building again, “ she enthuses.
In their leisure time, Bernadette and her late husband loved cruising on the Shannon. She saw the merit of having access to Ballinasloe from the Shannon for all the tourists. This led to the couple joining the campaign to have the River Suck made navigable . They facilitated the RTÉ camera crews to broadcast the navigable part of the Suck to highlight the blockages preventing its access for the cruisers.
Bernadette had sisters who were involved in Soroptimist groups in Dublin and Hong-Kong. Cepta Connolly was a key figure for the founding the Soroptimist in Ballinasloe and District and came to Bernadette to get involved “ I really enjoyed my engagement with the whole movement - , the mission being to improve the lives of women and girls in general, the idea that women and girls are best placed to know what is required to achieve change and empowerment”.
“The Soroptimists have representation in the United Nations and various other organisations which means if there is something that requires attention regarding the fate of women, we have a say. It is a most enjoyable, educational, and social club to be part of. We organise a public speaking competition each year for secondary school girls with topics related to women’s affairs. One of our local winners, Geraldine Lynagh, is now a newsreader on Virgin TV. It is great to see the future ladies speak so eloquently and with such conviction, the future of Soroptimist in the area is safe hopefully” notes the sprightly Bernadette.
Bernadette played poker with her friends as a young mother which was very sociable and enjoyable. As their lives progressed and became occupied with our families, we retired from it. After retirement, Bernadette reconnected with her friends and the group began their games anew. However, sadly one of their players, Mrs Pat Kelly, was one of the early deaths during this pandemic whose funeral she was not permitted to attend due to restrictions.
Now in retirement, Bernadette has been given time to enjoy her nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, even with Covid-19 but has learned to face time! Bernadette holds a great interest in the world and local politics. “The news channels now are so up to date with the latest happenings it is interesting to watch them, but I do so enjoy getting my copy of Ballinasloe LIFE and going straight for Barry Lally’s pieces which are always wonderful, (Barry was Alec’s Godson! ) “ states Bernadette.
The Soroptomists had an afternoon tea party for their oldest founder in early September last to mark Bernadette’s 90th Birthday and to thank her for her huge contribution to the local movement
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