Obituaries: Diana, Teresa, Tonypandy

Diana and Teresa

The death of Mother Teresa, so soon after Diana, Princess of Wales, shocked us all. The Missionary of Charity nun helped the poor and the sick in the slums of the world. The glamorous Princess, the mother of a future King, embraced victims of AIDS, leprosy, cancer, and landmines.
Teresa and Diana were friends in life, and there was speculation that the Princess was exploring the possibility of becoming a Catholic as a result of her links with the Albanian–born nun. A catechism was found among Diana’s belongings at Kensington Palace after her death. It has been revealed that the Princess often went to the nearby Catholic church to light a candle and pray. Her own candles in the wind.
Diana was a frequent visitor to Wales, where she was loved and respected. One of her greatest contributions was in persuading Pavarotti to sing at the Cardiff International Arena in aid of Ty Hafan, the Welsh hospice for terminally ill children, which is being built near Cardiff.
Mother Teresa is known to have visited South Wales twice. The first time was in 1970—her first visit to Britain—when she spoke in St Cadoc’s parish church in Cardiff, before visiting the local primary school the next day.
None of the present staff were at the school at the time, but the children—some of them grandchildren of the children of the youngsters who met the woman who will surely be canonised one day—celebrated the life of Mother Teresa at a special service in the school.
Mother Teresa included the school on her itinerary because the children there had raised 1500 to help buy an ambulance for her order.
Former teacher Ginny Welch, who was 24 when Mother Teresa called at the school, said “Even then we knew she was a special person, but she was very down-to-earth and sensible”.
Another retired teacher, Mrs Anna McCarthy, recalls that the children had prepared an art exhibition illustrating their views of the work that Mother Teresa and the Missionary Sisters of Charity were doing in India.
Headteacher Michael Glavin, who took up his new post only last week, lit a candle in Mother Teresa while the children read tributes and prayers they had written for the occasion. Also remembered at the service was the late Winnie Kennedy, the teacher who launched the fund which brought Mother Teresa to St Cadoc’s and Cardiff.
In 1996 Mother Teresa paid a surprise visit to Swansea for the opening of the first of her Order’s houses in Wales. “It was a wonderful privilege” said Indian born Sister Conceptina, who is in charge of the four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity at Swansea. “I had known Mother since I joined the order in 1981, and the Swansea posting was my first as a superior. It was typical of her kindness that she came for the occasion.”
A service to celebrate Mother Teresa’s life took place at St Joseph’s Cathedral Swansea on September 13. Her sisters and supporters are now determined to fulfil her ambition to establish a hostel for the homeless in the city.

Viscount Tonypandy

Viscount Tonypandy, former Speaker of the House of Commons, who died at his home in Cardiff on September 22 at the age of 88, was the driving force behind the Leasehold Reform Act, which freed thousands of leaseholders in Wales from the shackles of ground landlords who could—and did—reclaim homes and land for a peppercorn when the leases expired.
It was one of the greatest social reforms of the twentieth century, and poses the question as to what a similar act could could have done for Ireland 150 years ago.
As Home Office Minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland in the early 1960s, the then George Thomas, MP for Cardiff West, allowed the remains of Sir Roger Casement to be exhumed from the London prison where he was hanged in 1916. They were taken back to Ireland for re-interment.
In 1970 when he was Secretary of State for Wales he went to Ireland with the Cardiff Male Choir, and handed personal relics of Casement, including his spectacles and coat labels, to Bishop Eamonn Casey of Kerry. The presentation took place in the Banna Strand Hotel, a mile away from the beach where Casement was arrested in 1916.
During that same visit, the MP, who was President of the Methodist Congress, made history when he read a lesson during Easter Sunday Mass at the Catholic church in Ballyduff, Tralee. The Cardiff Male Choir, of which he was a Vice President, sang during the service. As he left the church the Welsh Secretary was greeted by a small group of elderly men—veterans of the troubles—all wearing Easter Lilies.
I organised the Choir’s tour to Ireland, and included the village of Ballyduff, on the road from Tralee to Ballybunion, as a tribute to my late mother in law, Margaret Caley, who was born there.
During the visit, George Thomas was made a Vice President of the Rose of Tralee Festival, and presented with a pair of Golden Rose cufflinks.
There was a unique finale to the Sunday evening concert at the Ballyduff cinema. The Welsh Secretary and the Bishop of Kerry sang ‘Its No, No, Never…’ as a duet. I stood between them playing the accordion.
Last year, Viscount Tonypandy and I were both at Mario’s Hairdressers in Llandaff North, Cardiff, waiting for a haircut. “What was that song we sang in Ireland?” asked George. Everyone in the shop joined in when the man who had served Cardiff as an MP for more than 40 years before becoming Speaker of the House of Commons sang the Irish song with great gusto. His recent death marked the end of his long battle with throat cancer.
No, No, Never will there be another man like George Thomas.

: John O’Sullivan, freelance journalist and writer, whose forebears came from County Cork.

Published in The Green Dragon No 4, Autumn, 1997.