Newry Girl Turns 90

My mum was one of three ladies reaching the grand age of 90 at the care home in Coventry where she’s lived for the last year, and the home had organised a special celebration which included a versatile entertainer.

Mr Gallagher, as he’s known when he performs, was dressed in a very eye-catching yellow suit (for his St Patrick’s Day appearance he’d had a green suit, and he explained to me later that he also dresses up as Elvis on demand). The dining room was decked out in disco lights and Mr Gallagher had added balloons and a placard with the names of the birthday girls, Gladys, Valerie and Alicia. Before starting to sing he read out a little history of the lives of the three women. When he explained that Gladys had left school at 14 to work in a mill she called out “no, I was 13”! It was very sensitively done, so too when he told some of mum’s story: how she’d been born in Newry, Co Down, the second of ten children of Elizabeth and Joseph McStay; had left school (where her favourite subject was maths, which I’d never known) at 14 to work in Bessbrook Mill; and had then come to England in 1957 to take up a job in the café of Coventry railway station; had met her husband-to-be, a Galwayman, three months later at an Irish dance; and had married in 1960 and had two children, my sister Eileen and me. In fact, mum arrived in Coventry in probably the very month in 1957, September, that the Irish Chaplaincy was founded, in response to the thousands of people like mum and dad who were leaving Ireland in search of work.

The singing finally began, with Mr Gallagher going through the likes of ‘When you’re smiling’, and ‘We’ll meet again’ (after which Gladys called out “you sing it ten times better than Vera Lynn”!). He added a couple of Irish songs, ‘The Rose of Tralee’ and ‘Your Lovely Irish eyes’; and then he was into Elvis, at which he particularly excelled!

After the entertainment there was the cutting of the cake and then food. Mum hadn’t wanted to make a fuss of her 90th but she enjoyed it. She was tired, mind, by the end when we said goodbye in her room. I’m grateful that she can see out her final years in such a nice place with such kind staff. I’m grateful for the joyful and thoughtful celebration to mark her 90th. And above all I’m grateful for this wonderful woman who brought me into the world and who has loved and cherished me.


St John the Baptist celebrations in Irish

The evening of June 23, St John’s Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. The bible states that John was born about six months before Jesus, therefore the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on June 24, six months before Christmas. St John the Baptist, like Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of very few persons to have the anniversary of the birth commemorated.

The Feast of St John coincides with the June solstice also referred to as Midsummer. The feast is celebrated in many countries throughout the Christian world. In Ireland this was the traditional night for the Bonfire. In this celebratory bonfire old bones were burned. In the Irish language the bonfire is called “Tine Cnáimh” which literally means fire of bones. Another name for the fire was “Tine Féil Eóin”.

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Everyone’s a Winner?

We are blessed at the Irish Chaplaincy with some wonderful volunteers and it was not easy to have to choose just one of them to nominate for the Irish in Britain Volunteer Awards. We did in the end nominate somebody and I was saying to Paul, our Seniors Manager “if that person gets the award it’s good for everyone at the Chaplaincy”, and I added, “everyone’s a winner”. I thought for a few moments, then said “but not in the Champion’s League final!” Continue Reading

Jean Vanier RIP

As I was told of the death, at the age of 90, of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, there immediately came to mind my favourite story connected with the great man: an important story for me, and one which I discovered years later from Jean I’d actually misheard!

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