THE joke in the house of Marie and Milo Cox, as they raised their family of 12, was that “‘my’ children and ‘your’ children are fighting with ‘our’ children!”.
Marie, widowed at just 32, when her beloved first husband, Harry Dunne died, had six children. Milo was also widowed young, and had a son, and when Marie and Milo married they went on to have five more children. “But there was never any distinction,like, if someone said to me: ‘your half sister’, or ‘half-brother’, I’d never think that way – we’re all brothers and sisters,” says Aideen Ginnell, second eldest of the brood, who range in age now from 60 down to mid-40s. Marie, matriarch of the Dunne and Cox clan, a beautiful and lively 87-year old, with a sparkle in her eye, highly recommends having a large family.“I don’t know why people don’t have big families, because they rear themselves– and they’re good company for each other, and it’s nice to have them in your old age,” she says.
.Marie’s first husband was ‘the’ Harryof Harry’s in Kinnegad. His name is back on Kinnegad’s main street thanks to the present owners’ decision to return to the name that put Kinnegad on the map,something that has delighted Marie, who still gets emotional talking about the man who wooed her, wed her, and then,tragically, was stolen from her by cancer.
Marie was born in 1926, at Knocknacreeve,near Sonna, to Annie (nee Cleary), from Cloughan, and Michael Casey, from Bryanstown, Ballinea.Four and a half months later, the family loaded up a pony and trap, and made their way to Cloughan, to take up a new life as publicans and farmers, and Marie went to school at Loughegar, before heading to board at a convent school in Navan, which she loved.I wanted to be a hairdresser, but my mother wanted me to be a nurse, and she had a priest friend in Leeds, Fr Casey, and he arranged it all, and I went there for three years to train,” she says.
The war was just over, and many of the patients were German prisoners of war, brought to St James’s Hospital as it was the first to offer plastic surgery. The nurses weren’t supposed to speak to the prisoners of war.“But I used to feel sorry for them,”she says, adding that when she could, sometimes she’d sneak a bit of fruit in to them.
After her training, Marie returned home and spent a year doing midwifery in Holles Street before taking up a job in ‘the county’ [hospital] in Mullingar, living with Bella Kilmartin – an aunt of Fr Michael Kilmartin’s – over what is now Eason’s. “I was only three years working as a nurse here, and you had to leave your job when you got married,” she says. That marriage was to Harry Dunne, whom she first encountered at a Bachelors Club dance in the county hall after Bella introduced them. “But he was doing a line with another girl,” says Marie. Harry was, however, smitten, and he began to ask Marie out, but she knocked him back. But they managed somehow to run into each other often, and the conversation flowed easily, and there was good craic between them. “Then, I fell stone mad in love with him,” she recalls. but from Marie’s point of view, there was no future, since he was seeing this other girl, and she believed she had no chance. “So I decided to go to America, and that when I’d come home, I’d have forgotten all about him. “This course came up in Mount Sinai hospital in New York, and myself and another girl applied for it, and got it, and we had to get a year’s leave of absence, and there was a big ‘do’ for us in the hospital, and Harry said to me: ‘Where are you going tomorrow?’, and I said: ‘I’m going [to Dublin] to get the tickets’. He said: ‘Get off the bus in Kinnegad, and I will meet you there’. And in the car, he said to me: ‘You are not going to get tickets today: we are going to get the ring! We’ll get married, and I couldn’t believe it, and I said yes. And I had to go back then, with just one ticket for the other girl.
“The next morning, I woke up, and thought I had been dreaming so the first thing I did was looked at my hand and saw the ring.”In February 1954, the couple got married, and when Marie asked Harry where they were going to live, he sprung another surprise: he had a house arranged for them in Killucan – “St Etchen’s”,all furnished, carpeted, and ready to move in to.
Children followed soon after, and while Harry drove to Kinnegad daily to work in the Dunnes’ skin and hide business, Marie stayed at home, minding
the children, their first having arrived in January 1955, the next in April 1956.