Defender of the built heritage of Kilkenny city

Maureen Hegarty: September 1st, 1921 - January 14th, 2016


Maureen Hegarty, who has died aged 94, was a formidable secondary teacher and a leader of the movement to celebrate the heritage of the city of Kilkenny, where she lived and taught for most of her long life.

The campaign to restore Rothe House, a 17th century merchant’s home, by Hegarty and other inspired women, made a significant statement about Kilkenny’s approach to its heritage, going beyond preserving a building, however worthy.

The vehicle to achieve this was the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, which in 1962 bought the premises, comprising three houses, one behind the other, to use as its headquarters.

It is now a museum and genealogical centre, and is administered by a trust.

Maureen Hegarty had joined the society in 1952, was elected to its council in 1957 and subsequently held office as secretary for almost 20 years and also as president, documenting the society’s work in the Old Kilkenny Review while also compiling obituaries, which she loved.

Devil for grammar

In an interview in 2014 to mark her 93rd birthday she said: “The kids in school said I was a devil [for correct grammar] but they liked me, and it’s my proudest claim that I was fair.”

Asked why she had not married, Hegarty told Kilkenny People reporter Seán Keane that she had received three proposals of marriage and turned them all down.

Although she was a sociable and outgoing woman, for life companions she preferred dogs. They were named Pip, after the character in Dickens’s Great Expectations. Pip 2 replaced the first when it died. Pip 3 was with her to the end.

Her parents, Denis and Mary Hegarty (née Gleeson) were schoolteachers in Johnswell village, about nine kilometers from Kilkenny city. She boarded at Loreto convent in the city, went to University College Dublin, and taught in Wales for six years.

After the second World War, she began teaching at Presentation secondary school in Kilkenny city and after 18 years moved to Loreto, where she became vice-principal. Her heritage and genealogical work was marked by an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland Maynooth in 2007.

Maureen Hegarty outlived the band of women who fought the good fight for Rothe House. Cissy de Loughrey, Daisy Phelan and Kitty Lanigan predeceased her, as she did her siblings, brother Austin and sister Imelda.

Disliking recent developments at Rothe House, she let her displeasure be known. The Hegarty family motto – Nec flectitur nec mutant – they neither bend the knee nor change – meant a great deal to her right to the end.