Jackie Keogh recalls the late Mini McKenna, mother to TV doctor Pixie, and a keen knowledge-seeker
MINI McKenna’s only fear in life was water.
Over the years any trips to Carbery’s 100 Isles were taken only on the undertaking that it was flat calm and the Baltimore lifeboat was on standby, so when she was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, she wasn’t afraid because illness was not something she bowed down to, she battled hard and baffled doctors with her attitude.
Her courage was immense. There was never a complaint or any self-pity from the woman who was mother to well-known TV doctor, Pixie.
Like her daughter, Mini always found a solution to whatever her ailment threw at her. If you asked her how she was, she was never just ‘grand’, but always ‘great’.
Without doubt she would testify that her tenacity was due to her Kilnamartyra roots.
Country people can do everything she always said, even sign Mass cards.
Her father was a farmer and her mother a teacher, and Mini followed into the teaching profession. At the age of only 16 she obtained not one but two University scholarships something, she was immensely proud of.
Having done her primary degree in Galway she moved to Cork to UCC to do her HDip in Education, and on the very first day she met her future husband, the then medical student Jim.
Together, over the next 60 years, they built what she always described as ‘an amazing life’.
Mini’s family was her prime focus, and even long after they left the nest she nurtured them and kept an eye on them. Nobody ever went short of a steak, a bed, a helping hand or an opinion good, bad or ugly. And this extended well beyond her family.
Mini was well known far and wide, by both her own friends and her children’s friends, for her benevolence. You were always welcome in her home, whether you were just coming for a chat or you had a crisis that needed sorting. She not only always had the answer, she was equally, always willing to help.
Mini’s love of education never stopped. Having qualified as a teacher at the age of 19 she got a job in Rochelle school and although she gave up work after she married, she never stopped teaching.
Anyone who’s ever needed help with Irish knew she was the ‘go to’ woman in Cork to get you through the Leaving Cert.
Not satisfied with only one degree she went back to UCC to do further qualifications in Law, Cathechetics and History of Art. She had a long-standing love affair with learning and could turn her hand to any subject.
Her memory, attention to detail and ability to recall facts was awe inspiring, even in her final years.
Religion was hugely important to Mini and provided immense comfort and strength over the years. Being a busy lady she sub-contracted out some of her prayers and petitions to the Poor Clares.
She had great faith in them and credited their divine intervention for her children passing their exams rather than their educational merit.
Over the past few years her Irish prayer book has been a constant by her side. As a native Irish speaker reading these prayers every night was an essential part of her ritual, more important than any medical intervention.
Mini was laid to rest in Baltimore, a place she has known and loved for 40 years. She had many happy memories of her time there, a time full of fun and friendship. The support her family have had from her doctors, nurses extended family and her many friends and acquaintances during this time has been overwhelming.
Everyone has a ‘Mini story’ to tell so while she may be gone, her memory will live on and that’s something that would have made her truly happy.
Mini McKenna (née McSweeney) of Maryborough Hill, Douglas, Cork, and Baltimore, West Cork, is survived by her husband, Jim; her sons, Mick, Joe, James, Johnny and daughter Pixie; and her brothers Dáithí, Donal and Sean. They loved her dearly.