Here is a biography of Catherine (Kate) Cooney wife of Joseph William Arthur written by her son Charles Arthur (Br. Firmin) in 1965.


Kate Cooney, the daughter of John Cooney and Alice Lahiff was born at Kilshanney, Co. Clare about the year 1838. In the family were five boys and three girls. The boys were names were John, James, Patrick, Martin and Austin. The names of the girls were Kate, Mary who became a Mrs. Callinan and Brigid who went to Australia to enter a convent. The Cooney family had a small farm and the usual thatched cottage of those days. In 1965 the house had been rebuilt and Austin Cooney and his family occupied the farm. Kate’s brother James was a shopkeeper in Ennistymon when Kate was in her teens. He dealt a good deal in tobacco and for this reason he used to go to Limerick to replenish his stock. It was while on such business that he came to know Joseph William Arthur who was also in the tobacco trade and thus a friendship was formed between the two young men. Joseph at this time was about 36 and not yet married. His mother Mrs. Margaret (Considine) Arthur was living in the cottage in Ennistymon and by the year 1858 Joseph was lining there with her. Evidently he had given up whatever business he had in Limerick. Through his friend James Cooney he had got to know his sister Kate at Kilshanney. He was a young innocent country girl who knew very little about the world. She got a primary education at the local school and she certainly never travelled more than a few miles from her native home. So it came to pass that she married the young Limerick city businessman, now living with his mother in Ennistymon and she came to live there in 1858. Her brother James had a shop his own property in the town. Joseph Arthur her husband had taken up the profession of photography by that time.

In 1859 Joseph William Arthur was married to Kate Cooney in the kitchen of the farmhouse in Kilshanney, the officiating priest being the Very Reverend Fr. Verrilly P.P. Many years ago an old Christian Brother – Br. Leo Nestor told Charles that he had danced at the wedding. He was a distant cousin of Kate and in subsequent years he always called to see her whenever he visited Ennistymon. Some years Charles requested Rev. Fr. O’Donoghue P.P. of Kilshanney to inspect the marriage register in the period we are talking about for details of the ceremony but sadly Fr. O’Donoghue informed Charles that immediately after Fr. Verrilly’s death a “vagabond” of a housekeeper whom he had, burned the book.  From conversations Charles had with his brother William the eldest of the family Charles came to believe that periodically at any rate the marriage was not a happy one. This may have been due to the disparity of age between husband and wife.

Joseph was a good living man, faithful and straight, he never drank but he lacked anything of a business capacity to bring a comfortable home for his family. He was city born and well educated while Kate was a simple country girl with a sharp temper, explosive at times. With all that she was most affectionate and forgiving. A big family of nine came along in due course and there was an interval of twenty-four years between the oldest and the youngest, William being the oldest and Charles being the youngest. From her marriage in 1858 to her death in 1901 there was a period of much poverty and diversity in Ireland. She experienced very little of the wealth and standard of living which we know today. She was ten or eleven years of age when the terrible famine of 1848 broke out all over Ireland followed by the terrible epidemic of the cholera. Kate used to speak sometimes about the bread they used to make from potatoes.

Charles never remembered his mother speaking of her girlhood days at home and stranger still he never heard her speak of her brothers, sisters, father or mother. Charles was only a child when his father died in 1890 yet he was deeply impressed by the deep sadness and melancholy by which she was surrounded in the years that intervened until Charles left for college in Baldoyle in 1900. She dressed in deep mourning for the rest of her life. There were only five of the children left at the old home and then after three or four years Frank left for Dublin and later for London. Joseph used to leave home for months at a time travelling on photographic business so that for the last six or seven years of his life at the cottage the family consisted of Kate, Catherine, Madeline and Charles.

 Kate was of a very religious turn of mind. Except during the severe cold of winter she rose for daily mass saying her morning prayers devoutly before she set out. Daily communion was an unknown practice in those days but she never missed monthly confession and communion. One day in the year she had a mass said in the house by one of the curates. It used to be said in the parlour on the left as you enter the hall. That parlour was later used as a bedroom.  

Kate’s greatest cross in her life was her youngest daughter Madeline. Madeline became a permanent invalid about the age of five, her trouble started with epileptic fits; these came at intervals every few months. Evidently no doctor was called and even if he were there was at that time no remedy for this terrible disease as there is today. The disease dulled Madeline’s mental faculties and her brain had ceased to work. By the age of nine she had lost all control over the use of her feet and hands. There was no deformity whatever but she had lost all power of observation of temper or affection. Her position at the age of twelve and indeed to the end was that of an infant a week old. Every necessity had to be done for her and to Catherine fell the task of attending to her day and night. To Catherine’s great honour fell the duty or privilege of attending to Madeline and well she did it for twenty-nine long years. Kate’s constant prayer was that God would take Madeline before her own death but Madeline lived for about eight years after Kate died. Madeline never lost her innocence and she was about twenty-nine when she died at Nazareth House Belfast. She was interred in the cemetery of that home in 1909. 

Kate had no pleasure outside her own home. She cooked well whatever there was to be cooked Charles was certain that there were no luxuries. She baked almost all of the bread that they ate. She made all of the underclothes that Charles wore as well as knitting all of his socks. Charles never wore long pants until he went to college. She did all the laundry and kept the house in good order. Since Charles had to be in school every morning at 8 o’clock they had an early breakfast. There was always a bit of lunch ready for him when he blew in at 12.30p.m. and his dinner was ready when he came home at 3.00 p.m.

During his childhood and teenage years he never heard her say an unedifying word not to mention a bad word. He was sharp enough to notice that when married women of her acquaintance came into the house for a chat she broke into the Irish language when she had something not suitable for his ears to hear. The subjects that we hear about and read about today in the public press were a closed book as far as she was concerned in those days.

 Kate allowed herself one very small luxury, which was an occasional pinch of snuff. Cigarette smoking among women was a thing unknown but not a few of them kept a snuff box, Charles invariably did the purchasing for her rarely exceeding a pennyworth a week and it should be remembered that a penny was worth considerably more than it is now. She always used Hignett’s Snuff and in a curious coincidence when Charles went to Liverpool the brother’s residence where he lived had formerly been the home of the Hignett family of snuff fame.

Kate liked to have some of the old occupations she had as a girl in her old home of Kilshanney and so she always kept a little Kerry cow, some fowl, as well as a flock of geese and ducks.  She found her recreation in these possessions. Before the winter set in she always secures a store of turf and a ton of coal against the cold of the coming months. She loved all her children without exception but she was not too demonstrative in the way she felt that affection. She could raise her voice and her tongue when the occasion demanded it but that was rare and only a passing phase and never did she harbour the smallest dislike for any member of her family.

 Kate was rather small in physique and remained rather slight all her life. On the whole she was blessed with good health in mind and body, but occasionally not often she got fits of retching and vomiting. On these occasions she was quite upset and the trouble used to continue for a day or two. Charles was of the opinion that this trouble proceeded from eating some food, which did not agree with her.

As far as Charles knew his mother never travelled much beyond her home. He believed that she was never in Ennis the home of her mother in law Mrs. Margaret Arthur and he was fairly certain that she was never in Limerick the hometown of her husband. When her son John and his family came to live in Kilkee about 1894 she and Charles used to go down once in a while to visit them for a day. Charles never knew her to be absent even one day from the home.

 The people of Ennistymon regarded her as an excellent woman who brought up a big family, kept them in order and always gave them good example. She was thoroughly honest in her dealings with all who had business dealings with her and she devoted all of her care and attention to the welfare and care of her family, never interfering with the affairs of anyone outside her family. She had her share of the cross but she bore it patiently. Very often her finances were at a very low ebb and there was the constant cross of the physical condition of poor little Madeline. There was never any serious family trouble except in the case of Madeline, sickness was unknown, there was never an accident, and never a lawsuit, and none of the family ever had any trouble with the civil authorities. They were all fervent in religion and the crowning happiness was that two of her daughters became Sisters of Mercy and two of her sons became Christian Brothers.

That was the Kate Cooney that Charles knew for the ten years before he left to join the Christian Brothers. He was never able to do anything financially to help her but she gave him every care in sickness and in health. She supplied all his wants and he well remembered the day in May 1900 when he said goodbye to her little realising at the moment what the parting meant and so he did not feel their separation. That goodbye meant that he would never again see her in this world for she died only ten months later of pneumonia.  Her close friend Fr. John Connelly C.C attended her at he deathbed.


Occasional words and phrases have been edited in the above in order to bring the text up to date and hopefully make it a little easier to read.  This editing has been as minimal as possible.



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