Lucinda O'Sullivan recalls a 'Domestic Goddess' whose smile lit up a room
I FIRST met Margaret Browne when I went to stay at her gorgeous Ballymakeigh Country House in east Cork with the late Terry Keane many years ago. Terry had heard that it was a great place to visit, with good food and a great unstuffy, warm welcoming atmosphere. She was right, but I didn't know that at Ballymakeigh I was to also make a friend for life in Margaret -- a life unfortunately cut short last week at the untimely age of 57.
Terry and I had arrived on a balmy summer evening as a long line of black and white Friesians walked in from the fields for milking. Standing in the doorway to greet us, Margaret had a smile that would light up the world, and she was everything that is positive about Irish tourism. She was a very charismatic person who drew people to her and lit up a room when she entered it. So many tourists who stayed at Ballymakeigh from America, England, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany, all enjoyed the warmth and genuine hospitality of Margaret and her husband Michael.
Margaret's distinctive voice was very familiar to listeners on the RTE Mooney Show as Derek Mooney's 'Domestic Goddess', dishing out a bit of wisdom and lore, hints and recipes. She was blessed with being extraordinarily articulate and quick-witted. Only two weeks ago, she gave her final interview to Derek Mooney. When he enquired how she was, she replied "I'm not too good," but, as usual, she put a bright side on it as she told of her daughter's recent engagement and quipped, with her humorous take on things, that "being on morphine and brandy was a great way to plan a wedding, one didn't worry about the expense!". Not only was she Mooney's Domestic Goddess, she had also been one of the last of the Calor Gas Housewives of the Year in 1990, the banner still hanging proudly on the wall at Ballymakeigh.
Born in Kanturk in north Cork, Margaret Curtin, a farmer's daughter, trained as a nurse in the South Infirmary in Cork City. When she ended up in what had previously been the matron's office in the South Infirmary during her final illness, she said she felt quite at home there because she had spent so much time in that room being reprimanded during her training!
She met and married farmer Michael Browne in 1976 and had three children, son Michael, and twin daughters Kate and Theresa. Margaret was a woman with what seemed like boundless energy and ideas, a great brain and endless capacity for repartee. She started out simply with a farm guesthouse in an era when people went for simple farm holidays but went on to become a Eurotoque chef, appearing many times on RTE and TV3, and wrote a very successful cookery book, Through my Kitchen Window. She also lectured at Ballymaloe on how to run a guesthouse. Ten years ago, she opened a restaurant on the main road between Youghal and Killeagh and, three years ago, developed this into the highly successful Green Barn Lifestyle Store, Garden Centre and Restaurant.
Two years ago, Margaret was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but there was still no stopping her. Margaret was never one to sit down and do nothing and visited the USA, New Zealand, Spain, France, and was up for every party and outing that was going.
Margaret bore her illness with extraordinary courage and grace, and still had that great smile up to the end. She was an active and well known member of the community and will be greatly missed by her devoted husband Michael, her son, daughters and their partners, grandchildren, brother and a wide circle of family and friends. (Margaret's mother, Kitty, who had lived and been cared for at Ballymakeigh for many years, died only three years ago, in her nineties.)
They walked Margaret on her final journey down her beloved tree-lined avenue at Ballymakeigh, for her spirit will always be there.