Frances Hughes. Courtesy of the Hughes family

Frances Carmel Hughes (née Barrett) passed away peacefully on Dec. 30, 2022 in Oakland, surrounded by her family and a few close friends. She was 83 years old.

Frances was born on Aug. 9, 1939, to Michael and Maisie Barrett of Craigbrien and Craignua, Ballyea Darragh, Ennis, County Clare, Ireland. She was one of nine siblings.

She left Ireland in 1958, at the age of just 19, to immigrate to America . She first landed in Boston, where she met, married and had five children with Michael Hughes of Curraghdooey, Crossboyne, County Mayo, Ireland.

Joined by Mike’s sister Kathleen and her seven children, in the summer of 1972 they moved across the country to San Francisco. Here the two families put down roots and forged relationships within the Irish community that lead to the founding of the Starry Plough Irish Pub in Berkeley. The pub would become her legacy through decades of community service and gatherings. 

Frances Hughes left Ireland for the U.S. in 1958, at age 19. Courtesy of the Hughes family

Frances quickly became the matriarch of the community gathering space of the Starry Plough, a fixture, as they say, and the unofficial pub bouncer. (If you ever misbehaved at the Plough then you know all about that.) She was the first stop in the Bay Area for many coming from Ireland for the first time. She would open her home, keep you, feed you and use all her resources and connections to help you get settled. 

Frances was grounded in the traditions of family and her rich Irish heritage, but was also an intelligent, adventurous, free-spirited and strong modern woman. She taught us so many things about how to be and how not to be in this world it’s hard to list them all.

She taught us to be adventurous and strong, to value family and community, to nurture friendships, to be kind and generous, to share what little or great we have with others who have less, to stand up to any injustices great or small, and she reminded us to enjoy this journey even when times are tough and to laugh whenever possible.

She was an avid storyteller with a gift for the gab, as we Irish like to say, and she could make you laugh, impart some sage advice, or regale you with stories of her youth in Ireland and our family history. She was never boring company.

Frances also practiced the Irish matchmaking tradition, and made a few marriages in her matchmaking career. She was most infamous for her cooking and baking, her Irish trifle, soda bread, stews and Kerry pies, to name just a few. We are forever grateful for all the time she spent in the kitchen teaching us, feeding the community and passing on the recipes that she learned from past generations of women to future generations. 

Frances Hughes came to the Bay Area in 1972, and opened the Starry Plough in Berkeley soon thereafter. Courtesy of the Hughes family

Frances is survived by her brother Sylvester Barrett, her five children, Rose, Carmel, Stephen, Maisie and Eileen, her son-in-law Mehrdad, her son-in-law Graydon, her granddaughter-in-law Simone, her grandson-in-law Sam, granddaughters Marian, Celeste and Abby, her grandsons Shahin, Riley, Liam and Ryan, her great-grandchildren Nevin, Lilah and Nila, and many nieces, nephews,  great nieces, and great-nephews.  She is the sister of the late Paddy Barrett,  Ignacious Barrett, Josie Leahy Née Barrett, Lily Harmon Née Barrett, Michael F. Barrett, Mairead Barrett and Michael O. Barrett. 

Frances’s passing leaves a deep hole in all our lives, hearts, our family and our community. She will be deeply missed. We are grateful to have had her and for the greater community that she helped to create and foster.  She leaves us all a legacy of love and laughter, friendship and tradition, her recipes, and endless fond memories.  We keep you in our hearts, Frances, and we are saving your seat at the pub always. 

A celebration to honor Frances will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22 at the Starry Plough (3101 Shattuck Ave., near Prince Street), in Berkeley.