Tuesday 20 August 2019

A woman of energy, drive and enthusiasm

The late Barbara McConnell.
The late Barbara McConnell.

By Maria Pepper

The head of Wexford Festival Trust Ger Lawlor has paid tribute to its former chairperson Barbara McConnell Wallace of Mulgannon who was buried last week in Our Lady's Island Cemetery following funeral Mass in the local church.

Barbara (nee Goodall) who was 81 years old, died in Kerlogue Nursing Home following an eight-year battle with dementia. Prior to her illness, she was initially involved in tourism and then enjoyed a successful career as a public relations consultant while serving as an inspirational voluntary executive in the town's international opera festival.

Mr. Lawlor said everyone connected with the Opera Festival was saddened to learn of the death of Barbara whom he described as 'our former chairman, colleague and dearest friend.'

The Wexford woman grew up in William Street and ran her parents' grocery shop for a time before joining the South East Regional Tourism Organisation and later established Barbara Wallace Public Relations which had its first office in Whites Hotel on the Main Street.

Extending sincere condolences to Barbara's immediate and extended family, he said she was a woman of immense energy, drive and enthusiasm and in an era long before social media, her skills as a public relations consultant were legendary.

The chairman said Barbara joined the board of Wexford Festival Trust (then the Council) in 1967 and served in a number of roles, including chairman from 1986 1991, during Elaine Padmore's artistic directorship, a period in which the festival underwent significant expansion.

The duration of the festival was increased incrementally from 12 to 18 days. In 1987, the former Theatre Royal (now the National Opera House) was enlarged to accommodate 550 patrons and beginning in 1986, Wexford operas were presented for four years in London's Queen Elizabeth hall.

Barbara steered the organisation through the shock of a withdrawal of Arts Council funding in 1986 and presided over the appointment of the late Jerome Hynes to the newly-created position of Chief Executive Officer in 1988, a milestone in the development of the Opera Festival, according to Mr. Lawlor.

'I have fond memories of many good times working with Barbara,' he sauid. ' Meetings could be passionate and were never routine. Things moved quickly under her chairmanship, and there was never any looking back. Once, at a civic reception for the festival volunteers, with a twinkle in her eye, Barbara compared all of us to 'little mice running on a little treadmill', and said that when one stepped off, another would always step on. This was a very accurate and I suspect somewhat mischievous way to describe the countless hours that people worked for the organisation.'

'The death of her beloved Niall McConnell was a significant blow and although Barbara has been absent from us for the past number of years due to poor health, she has always remained in our thoughts,' he said.

'She will be remembered by her colleagues past and present, in Wexford and abroad and also among our many long-time friends and visitors . It isn't a cliche to say that there will never be another like her,' he added.

Barbara was interred in Our Lady's Island cemetery alongside her second husband Niall. She is surived by her sons Brendan and Paul; her daughters Pauline and Mary; her brother John; her grandchildren Henry, Anna, Kate, Alexander, Brian, Daniel, Ronan, Conor and Gareth; her sons-in-law and daughters-in-law; nephews and nieces, and by her extended family and many friends.

Wexford People

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