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.