Formidable fighter for values and heritage of Kilkenny


Margaret Tynan: Margaret Tynan, who died at the age of 76, was the first woman to become mayor of Kilkenny.

She was elected unanimously by fellow councillors in 1969 and was mayor seven times altogether during an era of unprecedented change in Kilkenny, which developed in those years from a country market town to a rapidly expanding city.

It was while she was mayor in 1978 that the corporation commissioned a detailed study of the use of land and of traffic flow. A plan for the city and its environments was drawn up projecting 25 years into the future. This environmental research has been used as a framework to improve and build new roads and for substantial urban renewal.

At that time the population was 15,000 and it was envisaged this would grow to 31,000 in 2001 (it is now only 22,000). With this increase in mind, two separate suburban developments were created and a third is being built.

Margaret, with other members of the corporation, was insistent that the layout of the medieval city should remain essentially unchanged and though much of the unused spaces in the centre have been filled in, the street patterns and many of the 17th century houses remain.

Margaret Tynan was the daughter of Pierce Tynan, an alderman of the city, who had started the Kilkenny Motor Company which had the dealerships for Austin/Morris and Triumph. She went to school at the Presentation Convent and Mount Rath in Co Laois and then on to do medicine at University College Dublin. She did not finish, instead returning to go into the business and to look after her parents.

Of her three brothers, the eldest, Paddy, was killed testing a car on Duncannon Strand, while her youngest brother, Dominic, who had been running the company was tragically drowned at Barley Cove in Co Cork in 1974. Her middle brother died from a heart attack.

Margaret then took on the management of the Kilkenny Motor Company until it closed down in the mid-1980s. She was in her youth a keen rally driver competing against, and occasionally defeating, Rosemary Smith. She usually drove an Austin 7, though as she said herself, she drove anything she could get her hands on from the Kilkenny Motor Company.

At UCD, she had played camogie, and table tennis and badminton for Kilkenny. She was also the lady captain of Kilkenny Golf Club - the day before she was first elected mayor, she had won the Tóstal cup, returning a score of seven up in this singles competition.

She had come into local politics through the Chamber of Commerce of which she was president and in 1974, Fine Gael asked her to be their candidate in the county council elections where she won a seat and was subsequently elected chairwoman of the council.

Always concerned about women's rights, in 1969 she referred to the lack of female labour in certain industries, a matter that later came up for discussion in the council. She was involved in setting up in Kilkenny the Social Services, the Citizens' Information Centre and the Rape Crisis Centre.

The founding of the Civic Trust was another important institution in which she was deeply involved. The remarkable Peggy Butler, widow of Hubert Butler, had started a campaign to save the stable complex and dower house of Kilkenny Castle.

Kilkenny Design Centre, which had been accommodated there, was no longer viable, the government having withdrawn its financial support, and the place was about to go up for sale.

The county manager and the corporation formed a Civic Trust that took over the historic buildings to be run as a non-profit-making organisation. Now the Craft Council has its headquarters there and Butler House is run as a small conference centre, much used by the societies and businesses of the city.

She initiated a tree-planting campaign and when she heard that one of the fine old trees on the outskirts of Kilkenny was about to be felled by developers, she went and stood by the tree confronting the machines that were to demolish it. She was not much more than five feet in height so that it was a David and Goliath confrontation.

Margaret was always good craic, who knew how to tell a joke. She was a formidable fighter for the heritage of Kilkenny. When entering the city from the Dublin Road, there is a fine vista of the river Nore and Kilkenny Castle. It was owing to Margaret's persistence that a high wall was removed and a bench placed here. It is a fitting memorial to one who dedicated so much of her time to the city and its people.

Margaret Tynan: born November 15th, 1930; died October 28th, 2007