09 Tess May

Mrs Tess May
Joanne Hynes
Tess May on her wedding day
Joanne Hynes
Tess with her beloved son Paddy RIP
Joanne May

Tess May (nee Moran), was born in 1897 at Main St Ballinrobe, in the house that is now Treacy’s Pharmacy. Her father, Patrick Moran, was a local publican and County Council member. She was the eldest of 6 children though her youngest sister died in 1914 at the age of 7. In April 1919 both her parents aged 49 died within a week of each other from the Spanish flu, leaving Tess to run the business and look after her younger siblings.

The following year, during the war of independence her only brother Paddy was arrested by British forces and imprisoned until Dec 1921. In August 1922 Paddy was shot dead by Free State troops as he tried to escape over a wall in Kilkeeran Ballinrobe. He was 19 years old and a monument was erected on the spot where he died which remains there today. Two of the men who fought alongside Paddy that day were Captain Patrick May and Jack Ferguson. Tess would go on to marry Patrick and Kathleen her youngest surviving sister would marry Jack.

Cumman na Mban

Tess joined Cumann na mBan in 1918 and by the end of the war of independence had risen to the rank of captain in the Ballinrobe branch which had about 60 members. Her business in Main Street, a restaurant and bar, was often used as a messaging office, where Tess would receive messages and organize their delivery to other areas of the country. She organized fundraising, distributed ammunition stolen from the British forces and regularly fed and housed volunteers on the run. As a consequence, her home was regularly raided by the black and tans and she and her siblings lived under their threat.

Tess was also secretary of the prisoners comfort fund, she organized and sent weekly packages to prisoners in the interments camps, from 1921 to 1924. She was in charge of the South Mayo Brigade cash, and was secretary of the prisoner’s dependents fund, where she would distribute weekly cash supplements, which would require regular visiting to the families in the area. She received a pension of £10 pounds 2 schillings and 9 pence per year, (about €400 in 2019 adjusted for inflation), for her service during the war until her death.


In 1925 Tess married Patrick May, or Captain May. They had 4 children Marion, Paddy, Phil and Des. Shortly after his 12th birthday Paddy skipped school and while fishing with friends on the Robe fell through a hole on the pedestrian bridge by the weir and drowned. His friends raised the alarm and his father himself pulled Paddy’s body from the reeds and carried him up to the family home on Main Street. Of all the family members she had lost, Tess said none hit her as hard as losing her son.

Tess worked hard and had a generous nature. Many of her less fortunate neighbors would regularly receive free meals. Each Christmas she would make up dozens of Christmas food parcels to give away to those she knew needed them. There was no detailed menu and on fair day many orders were simply ‘two feeds please Mam’.

She loved to get away for an outing to Galway or to the races and said by the time she had reached Mile Hill on the way out of town she had left all her cares behind. Tess was woven into the fabric of Main St. and Tess Moran’s remained an establishment on the street until they sold it in the early 1960’s and moved to a new house built next to her son Des on the Neale Rd. Initially, when she moved to her home on the Neale Road she found it hard to settle, where she missed the bustle of the street and people passing her door. Sadly, less than a year later her husband died aged 62.


She spent her final years with her daughter Marion McGrath in Cahernacreavey and died in 1973 aged 76.

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