Farnaught and Newcastle upon Tyne
Ellen (Evelyn) Liddane (née Browne), was born in October 1923 in Farnaught, near Westport. She was the eldest of 10 children. She has died a few days after her 95th birthday, which she was able to celebrate with a twinkle in her eye over lunch in Hotel Westport.
She went to ‘school through the fields’ to Knappagh school. Though indignant about the overly harsh discipline of those days, she enjoyed the local country school and then the convent. She was born in the first year of the Irish Free State, founded after the double agony of the War of Independence and the Civil War. The teaching of the Irish language and Irish History were very important and she retained a real love and deep knowledge of both until her last days. As with many of her talents, she kept some of her light under a bushel but maintained a strong, quiet confidence in her own abilities.
At the age of 19, she went with a Westport friend to train as a nurse in London. This was a transforming experience for her. Her voice always warmed when she spoke of this time, even though the bombs of World War 2 were literally falling on her hospital. She loved the freedom. She loved the excitement. She loved London. And she literally had the time of her life. Place names like Croydon, Balham and Caterham seemed exotic to her children. It was in a dance hall in one such location, Thornton Heath, that her life took its most decisive turn when she met her husband Joe.
They were married in February 1947, in the middle of post-war austerity in South London. They returned to Ireland shortly afterwards with the intention of settling down ‘back home’ but poor economic circumstances forced them back to England, firstly to London and then Newcastle upon Tyne, where they lived for 30 years or so.
She had ten children, 27 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren.
Her pride in her Irish heritage shone through again in the choice of names for her children. Cathal, Maura, Kieron, Nuala, Grainne, Ronan and Aidan may be pretty common names these days. But it took vision and courage to use them in 1950’s Britain. It wasn’t necessarily the best thing to broadcast your Irishness in this way, especially when the locals struggled to get their tongue around the Gaelic tones. She was ahead of her times in many ways.
In later life she explained that, as a young girl, she loved the hills around her home in Farnaught and dreamed that she would return and build her own place there. So what did she do in her late forties, after raising ten children? She went back to school to get the exams needed for a good job. Unknown to her family she was saving to build that dream house. She had always been the one who budgeted and planned and this was now her crowning glory. It should have been obvious that something was up from the huge quantities of crockery, cutlery, bedding, furniture etc that she was squirreling away. By the late 70s she was ready and by 1980 she had built a generous, six bedroom state-of-the-art house on probably the best site in Farnaught. Overseen and masterminded by her brother, Tony Browne.
The rest, as they say, is history—over thirty years of contented retirement and good health. Frequent visits from her children and their children meant that the big house served exactly the purpose that she intended. Once again her far sightedness paid off. Her dream house was filled with the people who meant most to her—her family.
The death of her husband, Joe, a couple of years ago was a huge blow and she missed him terribly. They were so different, a true case of opposites attracting. But so compatible. Half of her disappeared with him gone.
She had the great fortune to have the loving care and attention of her daughter Evelyn for her latter years. Evelyn soothed and eased all the physical, emotional and practical problems as they arose.
She was an introvert by nature; private, quiet and unassuming; stoical about life’s events but determined and hard to budge when she her focused her mind. She was sparing with her display of emotion but felt things deeply. She was a very moral person and raised her children with a strong sense of right and wrong. She was also ahead of her time in making little difference between her handling of boys and girls. She expected all of them to be capable and responsible for their own affairs; to cook, do the laundry, knit, sew and darn, change a fuse, tend the garden. And they all benefited from these high expectations.
Her final moments sum her up. Her children were doing the crossword around her bed on the evening she died and got stuck on a clue. She opened half an eye and gave them the correct answer from her state of semi consciousness. The doctor who visited her half an hour before she died asked her how she was feeling and, stoical to the end, she responded “I’m fine”. When the doctor later heard that she had died so soon after his visit he was astounded.
She was a remarkable woman in many, many ways and would be gratified to know that so many members of her family had come from so far to be at her funeral. She lived for her family and her home. So she is probably even now sitting back happily in her celestial armchair, reunited with Joe, and surveying the family scene.
May her gentle soul truly rest in peace.