It was with an immense sense of sadness that the community in Mallow this week learned of the death of Mrs Hanna Sheehan, a woman whose kindness and generosity of spirit endeared her to countless people over the years.
For decades, Mrs Sheehan, known affectionately to one and all as 'Ma', was the gel that has bound the Irish Red Cross Mallow-Charleville unit together.
Although there had been a branch of the Red Cross operating in Mallow from 1941, it was disbanded in 1946 after the end of the Second World War.
In October 1951, Mrs Sheehan was one of the founding members of the reformed unit, taking over the role of the Ladies Unit officer, and in the process becoming the first Irish female to wear the new Red Cross uniform.
Having played an instrumental role in helping to lay the foundations for the unit's future success, Mrs Sheehan rose within the ranks of the Red Cross to the position of Assistant Area Director of Units, a rank that she still held in an honorary capacity, as well as serving at national level within the organisation.
In 2012 her selfless dedication was honoured by the organisation when Mrs Sheehan was unveiled as the winner of the inaugural James O'Loughlin Perpetual Trophy for the Red Cross Area Volunteer of the Year. An inductee into the Mallow Hall of Fame, in 2011 Mrs Sheehan received a personal letter from President Higgins congratulating her on 60 years of service with the Red Cross.
In 2014, both she and her daughter, Imelda O'Connor, were honoured at a special awards ceremony in Cork City Hall in recognition of their 100+ years of service between them to the Irish Red Cross.
The secretary general of the Irish Red Cross, Trevor Holmes, said the organisation was saddened to hear of Mrs Sheehan's passing.
"Mrs Sheehan was a vital member of the Mallow Red Cross and was one of its founding members, as well as serving on our General Assembly and the board of the National Society. Mrs Sheehan devoted her life to the Society, and her dedication was unsurpassed," said Mr Holmes.
"She will be missed by everyone at the Irish Red Cross and remembered for her selfless commitment and years of service."
In a moving and poignant post on their Facebook page Mallow-Charleville Red Cross said it was with "deep regret and sorrow" they announced the passing of Mrs Sheehan.
"Ma devoted over seven decades of her life to the Mallow Red Cross - having served in numerous roles, functions and honorary positions at local, area and nationals levels within the Irish Red Cross organisation and society."
The post said that Mrs Sheehan, whose famous catchphrase was 'we seek no honour, we seek no pay', "epitomised the true ethos of being a Red Cross volunteer through her lifetime of charitable works and empathy to those in their times of most need".
"She lived for her family, friends and Red Cross. It is truly the end of an era for us in Mallow Red Cross. Ma's life has, is, and will remain forever etched in the memories of us all. We offer our deepest and sincere sympathies and condolences to her dearest family and her huge circle of friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam."
Among her many other community activities, Mrs Sheehan was one of the founders of the Mallow St Patrick's Day Parade committee 32 years ago, serving as its treasurer since then.
Committee chair Noel O'Connor said she was a hugely influential figure behind the ongoing success of the parade over the intervening years.
"Hanna was a warm and generous person. She has an incredible way about her and a unique ability to bring out the very best in people. She was hugely generous with her time on behalf of the community in Mallow and will be greatly missed by all on the committee and everyone who was fortunate enough to have known her," said Mr O'Connor.
In accordance with Government and HSE guidelines, Mrs Sheehan's funeral will take place privately.
Her Requiem Mass will be live streamed on churchservices.tv/mallow at noon on Friday.
'A tremendously warm lady. Everyone loved her. Mallow has lost an absolute gem'.
'So sorry to hear this sad news. Hanna was a gorgeous lady inside and out. May she rest in peace'.
'A lady in every sense of the word. She never left me leave Mallow without a cuppa or bite to eat any time I was down with the ambulance'.
'Condolences to all her family and the Red Cross family, because Red Cross is our second family. She was a true lady. From all in Galway'.
'So sad to hear this. What a remarkable lady she was. May she rest in peace'.
'Very sad day for our Red Cross Family. Ma was, and always will be, our true hero. She gave out to us when we deserved it, praised us for our achievements and thought many of us everything we know. We will truly miss you, Ma'.
Eibhlis O'Shea Nugent.
'Sincere condolences from all of us [in] the Wexford Unit of the Order of Malta. I think every voluntary organisation has members who help tie the members together, bridging and the age gap in a wonderful way. Her loss will be felt by many.'