Last week, the light went out in my mother’s eyes when her best friend and first cousin Esther died suddenly.

Esther and Margaret were inseparable. As young girls they went everywhere together, dancing, pubs, the pictures, the bright lights of Cork City. They loved life, and even when they married they still met often.

When Margaret, my mum, moved from St Dominick’s Terrace close to the South Gate Bridge, Esther (née Nagle), husband Eddie and their six kids, Mary, Teresa, Elizabeth, Billy, Edward and Kenneth. I would often call on them when I was younger for a cup of tea and chat and always felt welcome. They were that kind of family.

Esther had many brothers and sisters, unlike our branch of the family. She had an infectious laugh, and a welcoming smile. She always called me Tommy Joe, something I didn’t like, but we’ll let that pass as my full name is Thomas Joseph Francis, shortened by lots of my cousins to Tommy Joe, but thankfully dropped as I grew older. She always had a kind word for me, and said I was a gentleman, something I was always happy to hear as I didn’t hear it enough from others.

Esther’s kids grew up, and as they did Margaret was invited to every social event, from birthdays to weddings, christenings, Communions and Confirmations. Mum is a real social animal so didn’t need to be asked a second time. When dad died 10  years ago Esther was there for her, ensuring she had the perfect excuse to go out a couple of nights a week, initially to the Enterprise bar in Barrack Street and latterly to Forde’s bar next door. On Thursday nights their chauffeur, taxi driver Steve, would collect them and bring them to their destination, the Hawthorn bar at the Lough, where they might be the last to leave the music sessions.

They laughed a lot, shared family ups and downs, laughed some more, and downed a glass or two of shorts or wine. Sadly, Esther lost her devoted husband Eddie not long after dad died, so now they were two widows with a little more in common. Esther suffered another blow five years ago with the unexpected death of daughter Teresa.

I found out a couple of months ago that Esther and Margaret were known by regulars as the Geisha Girls in Forde’s bar, two dainty ladies in their eighties who loved their little corner on a Saturday night.

Now Esther is gone and that little corner in Forde’s won’t see the Geisha Girls again. Mum has lost not just a terrific friend and cousin, but “the sister I never had”. The world is a sadder place for Esther’s absence.