Carmel Duffy - a woman for all seasons

Gina Fox


Gina Fox


SHE’S a socialite with a great love of fashion and a tremendous sense of place. Carmel Duffy was described in The Irish Times newspaper recently as “the beaming face” of the Tullamore Show and it’s hard to disagree with this description.

Born in Ballinough just outside of Clara to a farming background, she is the daughter of Kathleen and Bernard Duffy and is the second youngest in a family of seven, five girls and two boys. Her sisters are Ann, Catherine, Mary and Ronnie and brothers Berney and Jimmy who is now deceased. “Jimmy died last October, rest in peace. I miss him dearly,” says Carmel.

“I came from hard-working stock. My parents always put the family first and they worked hard to provide for us. My father died when I was 11. I remember on the night he died telling him the ambulance was coming. He handed me a holy cross and asked me to pray for him. I treasure the cross to this day.”

Carmel recalls her beloved Ballinough as a place of wonderful wild flowers, the Mass rock and roaming hills. “I walked to school through the fields down the railway line. I enjoyed every aspect of country living. We had our own flowery potatoes, apples, rhubarb and plums. We used to pit the apples and have them through the winter. We reared our own pigs and fed them SMA baby bottles,” she reminisces.

Carmel also remembers going to the Mart in the Market Square in Tullamore with her mother on Mondays’. “It was there I learned how to make a sale. My mother was the daughter of jobber, Tim Bergin. I learned the skills of influencing watching the bargaining and haggling over the price,” adds Carmel.

“I got the bus from Clara to Rahan for school and I completed my Leaving Cert in 1970. Clara was an industrial town then with people rushing to work in Ranks Flour Mills and Goodbodys’ as I boarded the bus.”

Like most Clara people Carmel is extremely proud of her home town. “I am brimming with pride that I come from the town of Offaly’s first Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Shane Lowry’s golfing exploits have brought the little town of Clara onto the world stage in the 21st century.”

Carmel enjoyed school but there was one day every week when she wanted to get home as quickly as possible. “I can remember Peter Henry and his fine sons with their travelling shop visiting Ballinough every week. Mammy would always have something nice for us each Thursday after she had been to the shop. That is the day I always rushed home from school. Otherwise she would have an apple cake in the oven for us. ”

Carmel’s eldest sister, Anne worked in Lumley’s bakery so the family enjoyed mouth-watering meringues on a Friday night.

Another memory for Carmel was the sale of work which took place on December 8 each year in Clara when Santa arrived and she was brought along to visit the big man himself.

But life goes on and after the Leaving Cert, Carmel got a job in the Civil Service and moved to Dublin where she lived with her sister Ronnie for eight years. During her time in Dublin she became friends with singer Mary Black and got into the folk scene there. She recently met up with Mary when she played in Tullamore and together they recalled many a good night out. While working in the Civil Service Carmel visited places like New York and Canada along with many parts of Spain, Portugal and Greece. “But I always felt there was no place like home and there really wasn’t.”

She eventually got her wish and moved back to her home county when she secured a job with FAS in Tullamore. It was an extremely busy office and Carmel was kept on her toes. She worked on setting up medical supplies company Sherwood Medical. She remembers there was high unemployment in the area at the time and FAS received 1,700 applications for 65 jobs in Sherwood Medical.

It was while she was in FAS that she became actively involved in the social life of Tullamore joining Macra na Feirme, debating societies and Tullamore Toastmasters which encourages proficiency in verbal communication. She was even selected as a finalist in the Tullamore Festival Queen competition. She also won Best Dressed Lady at the Kilbeggan Races one year.

She became a member of Junior Chamber where she won a national award in public relations which she said gave her a much needed boost of confidence. Furthermore she went on to win Best Programme in the field of education in a careers exhibition also with the Chamber.

“I was very proactive, Tullamore was a vibrant town at the time and I was working on the Miss Offaly contest, Miss Spiders, the Rose of Tralee and the Queen of the Land. I discovered how confidence opened many doors.”

Having trained as a colour consultant Carmel set up her own business on Kilbride Street called ‘Sun Centre/Colour Me Beautiful,’ where clients discovered through diagnostic shades their best colour, clothes, hair, make-up, glasses and accessories.

“I taught clients how to become capable and confident and to look well and thereby feel well. I taught them to groom appropriately and began teaching interview techniques to get that job and build confidence. I was lucky in life I was often in the right place at the right time.”

These days Carmel is heavily invested in the Tullamore Show where her love of all things fashion comes to the fore. Of course she didn’t lick it off the ground as the saying goes, her late mother Kathleen had great taste and never left home without a hat no matter what the occasion. Hence the hat competition at Tullamore Show is in her honour and attracts competitors from across Ireland.

Carmel has been involved in the Tullamore Show for the past 28 years and she believes her initial interest was sparked by the family’s trip to the Spring Show every year which was always an occasion for dressing up.

As mentioned above Carmel has been described as, the beaming face who greets everyone throughout the show grounds as she and her team go in search of the Best Dressed Woman.”

Her organisational skills always come to the fore long before show day when she enlists her sponsors and models and the bevy of beauties that always surround her on these occasions and who come to her aid on the day helping out in a myriad of different ways.

“I’ve developed the fashion section at Tullamore Show from its humble beginnings when we had fashion shows on the back of a lorry to what it is now one of the largest marquees on the show grounds, attracting up to one thousand people,” explains Carmel.

A fan of life long learning Carmel has completed many courses over the years including a diploma in counselling skills, a certificate in adult education, coaching and meditation to mention but a few.

She is currently a student of Carmel Bracken RSM studying Living in Wellness – Body, Mind and Spirit practices. She is also a member of Offaly Enterprise Network and Offaly Heritage Group. Carmel enjoys visiting historic houses all over Ireland. She attends physiotherapy and exercise classes led by Catherine Scully who she describes as’ wonderful’.

“From my life experiences I write and read an inspirational insights for Paul Galvin’s Queen of Peace prayer group on Monday evenings, which is a spiritual gathering. I have attended workshops by Eckhart Tolle who wrote the bestseller ‘The Power of Now’. My favourite books are Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ ‘The Power of Positive Thinkin’g by Norman Vincent Peale and Anthony de Mello on awareness.”

When it comes to her own work, Carmel specialises in interview preparation and career planning in both group settings and one to one. ‘Get That Job,’ is the title of her course and it covers all levels from graduates to those looking for promotion, in fact whatever type of job Carmel will take hopefuls through interview techniques, videoing them and discussing where they went wrong and pointing out what they did correctly. She has made lifelong friends through this endeavour and is very successful at her job.

In her spare time Carmel loves travelling around the islands of Ireland to places like Inishbofin, Inis Oirr, and also Connemara. “It reminds me of Ballinough,” she says.

There are not too many people who can boast they have had a poem written in their honour but Carmel can. Written by the late Camillus Boland we include a short extract below.

In Search of A Smile

But we have travelled a long journey

Our purpose was to see that pretty smile.

If we have no picture on our return home

Be beheaded for wasting all the miles,

There she was when we went in the door

A beaming smile lit up her pink lips

Three men took out their camera phones

Only sound heard was click, click, click.

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