THE LATE NELLIE QUINLAN
Nellie (Hartigan) Quinlan, of Thomas Street, Mitchelstown, who died on 21 July 2011 was the doyenne of local press correspondents. Her name will mean little or nothing to a generation of Mitchelstown people reared on the internet, local radio and mobile phones. But to those who remember a gentler age when ‘news’ came weekly through local newspapers, Nellie was the queen bee with a court that depended on her for their version of the local news to make it into print. In those days, 'The Corkman' and the 'Cork Examiner' were the newspapers of record in Mitchelstown. 'The Avondhu' arrived much later on the scene and its readers also benefitted from her penmanship.
Nellie succeeded her brother, T.J. Hartigan, as press correspondent in Mitchelstown when he died in the 1964. They were the only children of Tom Hartigan who had come to Mitchelstown to open a jeweller's shop in New Square. In the 1911 census, her father declared that he was born in Ceylon and that he was a master-jeweller. He later moved the family business to Lower Cork Street.
T.J. was legendary as a local correspondent. His camera accompanied him everywhere, although people regularly suggested that the reason his photographs rarely appeared in print was because he didn’t have film in the camera.
During almost thirty years as local correspondent, there was very little that happened in Mitchelstown which Nellie didn’t get to write about. Deaths, births, marriages, crime, badminton, tennis, soccer, GAA, fundraisers, gymkhanas, hunts, dances, dress balls, indoor football, bingo, whist drives, 21st birthday parties (including my own) – the list was almost limitless.
As the local correspondent, Nellie had her pulse on Mitchelstown. This was helped by her involvement in a wide variety of organizations, but the one that was most dear to her heart was the Mitchelstown Geriatrics Association. Because of that involvement, she became a founder and director of the Tearmon Uí Chaoimh sheltered housing project in James Street.
During the first years of the Festival of the Galtees in the 1970s and ‘80s, when it was one of the great annual events of North Cork, Nellie could be seen night after night in the festival caravan taking copious notes, writing up results and having everything ready for the coming week’s issue of the ‘Corkman’. In those days, she was the only local contact point for the regional and national newspapers. Most of her stories came by way of callers to her door and from those wishing to get advertisements into the national and local papers for whom she corresponded.
Nellie did not suffer fools. Hers was a very direct approach which did not always earn her friends. She had a capacity to rub people up the wrong way. Privately, she saw Mitchelstown for what it was and could comment acerbically on those whom she felt deserved it. As a young reporter I was in awe of her. On one occasion, referring to something I had written, she advised me that journalists should ‘always temper justice with mercy’. I haven’t always succeeded in following that advice but I’ve never forgotten it, and I quote is as a guiding principle for those who sit in judgement over others.
Nellie was a force to be reckoned with. She was one of those who did more than most for her community but as is the way of all things, with the passage of time her contribution has been forgotten. Her chief legacy include the thousands of reports written by her, almost all anonymously, in the newspapers for which she wrote.
Her retirement as press correspondent, following her husband Tom’s death in 1989, marked the end of an era. Her sudden decision 18 years ago to move into Corpus Christi Nursing Home came as a shock to everyone who knew her because she was then and for many years later, in very good health. She was never seen in public again. At the time of her death at the age of 92, she was the longest resident at Corpus Christi Nursing Home.
Early in my career, Nellie frequently told me that that when she died, she wanted me to write her obituary. I used to laugh it off, as one does, for nobody knows what lies around the corner. I'm sure she wouldn't have liked what I've written about her, that was just the way she was, but she might forgive me, sometime. Above all, I shall remember her as the last great local press correspondent from Mitchelstown. I remember her with affection and in doing so I have tried as best I could to temper justice with mercy.
May she rest in peace.
Keywords: Cork Examiner, justice, mercy, Mitchelstown, Nellie Quinlan, obituary, press correspondent, The Avondhu, The Corkman, Thomas Street" geriatrics
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