Ireland’s first ‘steeplejill’ soaring to new heights

A passion for climbing and a remarkable fearless attitude towards the world of business ensured that Ireland's first female steeplejack, Angela Collins O'Mahony, embarked on a career of many heights. As the inspiring Ardnacrusha woman unexpectedly rekindled her love for conquering high places, charity wasn't the only party to benefit.

The group from Collins Steeplejacks including Angela Collins O'Mahony, and her husband John, along with their three daughters, Martina, Hilda and Susan, receive their certificates of recognition after abseiling down Croke Park for Plan International Pic: Susan Kennedy

LIFE for the now 75-year-old Angela Collins O’Mahony has always been full of many highs, but a recent abseil down Croke Park brought back many memories for the Ardnacrusha entrepreneur.

Reliving the impetuosity of her youth, almost 30 years since the former Collins Steeplejacks managing director retired, Angela joined forces with her three daughters in a bid to raise crucial funds for a charity fighting for children’s rights and equality for girls, Plan International.

Just like her unusual career path, which saw the Kilkishen native climb into a man’s world in the 1960s, nothing was going to stop Ireland’s only ‘steeplejill’, once the excitement took over. 

Planning only to show moral support for her girls, Susan, Martina, and Hilda, Angela took off to GAA headquarters, oblivious to what lay ahead. 

“Hilda, a violinist living in Dublin wanted to abseil down Croke Park on March 9 last to raise funds for the charity and asked her sisters to donate €300 each or fundraise for the fee to abseil,” Angela recalls.

“My husband John and I went along to support them. 

“I dressed in a gúna and high heels as we were to have a family day, but on arrival at the top of Croke Park and seeing my daughters and the others in their harness I got a buzz of excitement and wanted to it with them but I was not dressed for the occasion,” she added.

Having originally worked as a secretary for a steeplejack company, Angela’s life-long passion for climbing was born when she was forced to climb the chimney stack to tell the male steeplejacks that their delivery had arrived.

The rest as they say is history, as Collins Steeplejacks was formed in Ardnacrusha, and as the well-known ‘steeplejill’ took to her role as managing director, church spires and industrial chimney stacks continued to be scaled. 

75-year-old Ardnacrusha woman, Angela Collins O’Mahony, and her daughter Martina abseil down Croke Park for charity Plan International

Over 50 years later, and just as Angela thought she was finally starting to act her age, she began to take a step back in time.

“The 85 other participants were walking up the steps to begin when Susan Kennedy of Lensman Photography saw my dilemma, and without hesitation took off her two jackets and handed them to me,” she said.

Not one for standing around, Angela got changed in no time, and ran after the group in her high heels, joining forces with her three daughters as they awaited their turn to participate in the charity abseil. 

“It was a proud moment for me to see all in mid-air and real craic for a good cause,” Angela recalled.

Soon she was abseiling across Croker, putting any doubt out of her mind that the excitement that  the steepjacking days brought about were a thing of the past.

“Though I was climbing regularly from age seventeen and while running Collins Steeplejacks it was still a great surprise to me that I was able at 75,” she explained. 

“I have been taking things very easy due to a bad heart and having four stents and had recovered from colon cancer some years back.

“After the climb I felt so invigorated, that I came to the realisation that I am only in the last third of my life and should stop dwelling on age and be doing more volunteer work or do another adventure and realise that age should not dictate.”

In light of this, Angela is hopeful that similar charity events could be organised in Clare and the Midwest region in a bid to not only collect much-needed funds but provide an “exciting” and worthwhile pastime at many of the regions taller buildings. 

Plan International fights for the rights of children, especially girls, who live in the poorest regions of the world, with all funds raised by Angela and her three daughters going directly towards helping some of the most disadvantaged people on the planet. 

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