Margaret Bannigan Fox was especially proud of her townland of Legaltion where she lived her whole life
It was with great sadness that news of the death of Mrs Margaret Fox of Legaltion reverberated around the town of Ballyshannon and the wider community.
Widow of the late Benny Fox, Margaret died peacefully at her family home on June 27 just five days after marking her eighty-first birthday.
A committed Christian and a life-long parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Kilbarron, Margaret was the beloved mother of Linda, Christine, Brendan, Sharon, Dermot and Sinead; adoring grandmother to Aengus, Aoibhin, Diarmuid, Aodhan, Caolan and Naoise; loving sister to Mary and Angela; considerate mother-in-law to Peter, James, Marilyn and Adam; supportive sister-in-law to Kathleen, Deborah and Mary-Alice and a caring aunt to a circle of twelve nieces and five nephews.
Born in Legaltion on June 22 1940 to Mary Katherine Bannigan (nee Slevin) and Anthony Bannigan, Margaret was the youngest daughter of the ten children in her farming family. She attended St Catherine’s National School and completed her formal education at the Sacred Heart Secondary School, Ballyshannon.
Upon the untimely death of their mother when Margaret had just reached eight years old, her eldest sister, Mary (Hoey) assumed the responsibility of being a mother to her six younger siblings supported by their father and their very kindly and compassionate next-door neighbour, Nan Myles. In this altered domestic situation, Margaret soon exhibited an interest in baking which her father nurtured as he had worked professionally as a baker in Portland, Maine, USA in the early 1900s. He encouraged her to produce high-quality soda breads, sponge cakes and apple tarts. Long before Bake Off, this skill stood her to good stead whilst working in the local parochial house and later in her own home as well as being a passion that endured until the end of her life. No matter who called to visit her or what time of day it was, Margaret was always friendly, kind and welcoming. Quick with the kettle, Margaret offered endless cups of tea always accompanied by an array of delicious home baked goodies to tempt even the most disciplined dieter.
Blessed with a natural ear for a tune and a fine, sweet-toned untrained singing voice in her younger carefree years, Margaret would regularly entertain visitors with popular ballads and old Irish airs. Often she was accompanied in this by her late brother Noel, harmonising and playing an accordion.
One of their most often requested offerings was Gallant John Joe, a tribute to the deceased Gaelic footballing hero, John Joe O’Reilly. This choice of ballad naturally arose from her enthusiasm for sport and rural life as it blends admiration for a talented player with a celebration of his native Cavan.
Anyone who knew Margaret well would identify her as a sports fanatic. With a keen and wide-ranging interest in snooker and show-jumping she was an observer of form and talent, often accurately predicting the outcome of competitions against the clamour of louder “experts”.
Naturally, an avid supporter of her home county of Donegal she was also a lifelong fan of the legendary Kerry senior football team of the 1970s and 1980s that won eight All-Ireland titles under the stewardship of Mick O’Dwyer. Her children have lovely memories of her standing roaring in front of the television cheering on her Kerry heroes.
For her favourite sport, hurling, it was the “Blood and Bandages of Cork”. Her all-time hurling hero was the great Christy Ring. Her mantra for the championships was unwavering, “Kerry for the football and Cork for the hurling” but her emotion was beyond happiness when Donegal was victorious.
Love of Football
This love of sport was fostered at an early age. She grew up watching the local Abbey Shamrocks Gaelic Football team of the 1950s as their playing grounds were in the front field of her childhood home. The team was made up of neighbours and friends and Danny Bannigan, one of her older brothers was a key player. It fell to Margaret to assist her father with making tea for the players at half-time but inevitably she became immersed in the team’s discussions, debates and later post-match analysis in Bannigans’ kitchen.
Although Margaret never had to emigrate she, like many others of her generation, was an ardent supporter of Manchester United Football Team but in particular, she enjoyed the era of the Busby Babes.
Interestingly, often her sporting heroes were the so-called bad boys of their respective sport: Harvey Smith; Alex Hurricane Higgins; Jimmy Whirlwind White; George Best; Eric Cantona and of course, Roy Keane. She was also keenly interested in the local Aodh Ruadh club and was an extremely proud “football mum” when her son Dermot became part of the U13 boys gaelic team representing Donegal that went on to win the Community Games final in 1990 at Mosney.
Although never self-promoting, Margaret decided that she was part of the backroom team and therefore eligible to travel alongside the mentor Willie Rodgers and manager, Jim Kane with the players on the team bus to Mosney. In her eagerness to board she left her suitcase on the pavement and would have gone without it only for the observation of Buddy Greene who saved it at the last minute prior to departure.
Margaret’s enthusiasm was infectious and everyone was delighted when the team and supporters returned home as champions.
Probably Margaret’s greatest passion, love, achievement and lasting legacy was established in her role as Margey, minder of children. She looked after other people’s children as if they were her own and she was viewed by them as an extra grandmother or alternative mother. It is a testament to her character and selfless devotion that all the children she looked after down the years maintained close family bonds with her and were regular visitors to her home long after they had grown up. As one recently aptly stated, “Her influence is woven into the personalities of the children she minded.”
In August 1971 Margaret married her soul mate Benny Fox, who truly was the boy next door of romantic stories as he was her next door neighbour. As well as a homemaker and mother to six children, Margaret helped to run their family farm turning her hand to anything that needed doing from milking, raising poultry, working at turf, saving hay and caring for the many generations of cats and dogs that came her way. Although Margaret enjoyed her weekly trips to town for shopping and catching up with local news she was undoubtedly happiest in her own home surrounded by her children and later, her loving grandchildren. Indeed when the sorrow of sudden widowhood struck it was caring for these next generations that gave her renewed purpose and drive.
Kind-hearted and caring
Margaret will be lovingly remembered as a kind-hearted, caring, witty and unique lady who touched the lives of all who knew her. She was well acquainted with grief having survived her parents, husband and all her brothers but she never let that private agony diminish her basic ability to show compassion or share a friendly word. She was especially proud of her townland of Legaltion where she lived her whole life and its close-knit community of neighbours who were not seen by her as friends but as part of her extended family. Throughout the years they supported her in the difficult days as well as sharing many happy times, special occasions and major life events.
Seemingly in accordance with her natural desire to avoid giving anyone any bother Margaret’s life ended quietly in the early hours of a summer Sunday morning at home with her children as she would have wished. In a poignant twist of fate her funeral was conducted exactly a week after her birthday and on the seventy-third anniversary of the death of her mother. Margaret’s Requiem Mass was concelebrated by Rev Fr O’Ferrai, PP and Fr Dermot Burke. After the moving ceremony Margaret was taken to her final resting place in the family plot in the Abbey graveyard.
It was evident from the large numbers of relatives, friends and neighbours who, adhering to Covid-19 regulations, lined the routes to and from the church that Margaret was held in the highest esteem and regard. Although slight of stature she had a big, warm and generous heart and surely of her, it can be truly said that Margaret Bannigan Fox died as she had lived, everyone’s friend. She will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace.
Her family would like to extend grateful thanks and appreciation to all who kindly donated to Margaret’s nominated charities, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, for which her beloved Roy Keane is an ambassador, and North-West STOP. Additionally, in spite of all the current difficulties it is also very much appreciated that so many people have taken the trouble to offer condolences and to share happy memories with the Bannigan and Fox families. This has been a source of great comfort and support at this sad time.
Ar dheis De go raibh a hanam dilis.
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