First Encounters: Catherine McGuinness and Margaret Moyse

‘We share a wicked sense of humour’

Catherine McGuinness and Margaret Moyse at the Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel, Stillorgan. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Catherine McGuinness and Margaret Moyse at the Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel, Stillorgan. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Catherine McGuinness is a retired member of the Supreme Court, the first woman appointed a Circuit Court judge, and former President of the Law Reform Commission. She is a member of the Council of State. She has three children and seven grandchildren and lives in Blackrock, Co Dublin

Margaret and I met in the Culwick Choral Society over 50 years ago: I’ve been in it for 54 years, joined a little bit before Margaret. We’d both been in Alex [Alexandra College], but Margaret was 10 years behind me. It was just nice to have someone who sang second alto, who would join me on the low notes. We were sometimes drafted in as tenors; that kind of bonded the two of us.

Our friendship developed gradually. We sat beside each other as much as we could, would catch each other’s eyes and laugh at the same things. We have got closer as we got older, especially in recent years since we both lost our husbands. My husband Proinsias [writer and broadcaster Proinsias Mac Aonghusa] died 11 years ago, Arthur, almost seven years ago.

I’d hate to lose being in the choir. I’ve always had a very busy life, some of it pretty stressful. You could be at the absolute bottom, feeling dreadful, cross and tired. Then you come in and sing for the evening and go out feeling splendid.

I was 21 and still in Trinity when I got married: I’d met Proinsias in An Cumann Gaelach. In the 1960s I worked as a parliamentary officer with the Labour Party in Leinster House, then was at home for quite a bit when the kids were small. I was made a member of the Adoption Board and another member, a former judge, said ‘ why don’t you think of doing the Bar, even just for interest’s sake?’

I loved it as a career.

Margaret is amazing in how she looks after people all the time, whether it’s me, or the people in the Royal Hospital where she volunteers, or her late mother or other relatives. I have a habit of breaking bits of myself, my arm, my wrist and more recently, had surgery on my foot. On all those occasions Margaret in a saintly way has come to collect me for the choir and bring me back every week.

We meet for lunch pretty regularly, often on a Thursday. We email each other all the time.

Margaret’s an absolutely beautiful embroiderer and a very good photographer. When she and her Jack Russell, Charlie, came to stay with me in Connemara this summer, we went around taking all sorts of photographs.

I’ve just turned 80 – Michael D. very kindly had a party for me in the Aras. . . I’ll go on doing everything I’m doing as long as I’m able.

I met Margaret when she was a teenager and she’s matured like all of us do. But inside, she hasn’t changed that much – she’s an infinitely kind person. That makes her sound very serious, but she’s very funny, full of good humour.

I enjoy her jokes.

Margaret Moyse is a medical laboratory scientist who worked in St Anne’s Hospital in Dublin and now volunteers in the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook. She has a son, stepson and stepdaughter, four grandchildren and two great- grandchildren. She lives in Clonskeagh, Dublin 14

I joined the Culwick straight out of school when I was about 17 and I remember thinking, when I saw Catherine, ‘well, they’re not all 70-plus’. There were some very fearsome ladies there who thought they owned the choir: it was nice to find somebody who didn’t look quite so intimidating. The main thing about our friendship is that Catherine and I share a wicked sense of humour, are just on the same wavelength.

One of my favourite memories from our earlier years in the choir was when Catherine was doing law and her children were still small: she never missed a night. She arrived one night practically asleep and had this huge tome on her lap, nodding off over it. I said ‘never mind, you can soon go home and go to bed’. Catherine said: ‘ no I can’t: my son is doing something for cubs that has to be handed in tomorrow. I told him if he got a certain distance with it, I’d finish it for him.’ I thought it was amazing that in spite of everything, family never suffered. Typical Catherine. The choir came first on a Thursday night, but the family wasn’t going to suffer.

I was born in London, moved to Belfast when I was four and Malahide when I was eight. There was a marvellous lady who had a children’s choir in the village and she got me involved in it from the age of eight. After school I started work as a medical laboratory scientist, then took early retirement, then did an Open University degree, an Hons BSc, then an Hons BA. I do a lot although not nearly as much as Catherine. I sew frantically, am in a stitch ‘n bitch group in Chapelizod that’s great fun and I do voluntary work in the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook, one day a week.

Catherine and I have become closer since our husbands died. I had my husband, mother, son and grandson living with me at one stage – and then they were all gone, at the same time. Catherine and I wouldn’t talk about being widowed all the time, but it helps that Catherine knew Arthur – a wonderful singer who I met in the choir – and I knew Proinsias.

I’ve got used to Catherine’s public life. The lovely thing is that she’s still the Catherine I knew before any of this. Sometimes at choir rehearsals when she’s achieved something, they tease her – apologise for not having the red carpet out, pull her leg.

It’s great that she is still Catherine. She’s great fun and very loyal.

The Culwick Choral Society will present The Coming of Christmas, an evening of music with guest soprano Claudia Boyle, at 8pm on Monday, Dec 1st, in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, nch.