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Eleanor Mary Fairburn (Eva Lyons)


Eva Lyons (Eleanor Mary Fairburn) died peacefully in the Priscilla Bacon Hospice in Norwich, England, on January 2, 2015 at the age of 86.
The only child of Mary (May) and Michael Lyons, Eva was born in Westport on February 23, 1928. In spite of the death of her mother when she was only three, Eva’s early childhood was filled with love and laughter from her grandparents and close relatives who adored her.
Aged eight, Eva went to boarding school at the St Louis Convent at Balla where she flourished, leaving at 17 with outstanding grades in her final exams.
She trained in Dublin for an initial career in fashion design. This was followed by working as a hospital and doctor’s receptionist, during which Eva supplemented her income by writing articles and stories for newspapers and using her creative talents to produce knitwear designs for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
By the time she was married to Brian Fairburn, an analytical chemist for ICI, and settled in North Yorkshire with young daughter Anne-Marie, Eva knew that what she really wanted to do was write.
Immersing herself in the Middle Ages, she achieved the publication of her first novel, The Green Popinjays in 1962. Published in 1964, her second and most successful book, The White Seahorse, about infamous pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, was such a well-researched novel about a particular period of Irish history that it became a reference book in Irish schools. In all, Eva wrote some 25 books. The majority were historical fiction, although she also wrote several crime thrillers under various pseudonyms. She had significant success, including winning the prestigious ‘Author of the Year’ award and earning a reputation as ‘the author’s author’ because her work was always so meticulously researched.
Eva also tutored a course in ‘practical writing’ for the University of Leeds for some ten years, and was a founding, active member of Middlesbrough’s Writers’ Group. She designed wallpaper, painted watercolours and gardened – most notably transforming an unkempt patch of land at her Middlesbrough home into a cottage garden worthy of Homes and Gardens Magazine. She knew the Latin names of every plant – putting her convent-school Latin to good use.
Eva was a gentle person, with a deep, sincere interest in other people, and was always very appreciative of people’s time and generosity. Eva was a practicing Catholic all her life and was always supportive of people less fortunate than herself. Despite having no further children of her own, Eva continued to ‘collect’ young people, mentoring them in their school studies or guiding them on their career paths or just acting as their substitute grandmother. She was reunited with her much-loved step-siblings Carmel and Jim in their late teens when they each came to do a year’s placement in Middlesbrough whilst training as a nurse and doctor respectively, and she always kept in close touch with Fiona, whom she adored.
In the mid-1990s Eva was diagnosed with primary, non-remitting MS, though she continued to live a full and fulfilled life in spite of her reduced mobility. Brian’s sudden death in 2011 was a huge shock and subsequently Eva moved to a house in Norwich opposite her daughter’s, where she was content to listen to BBC Radio 4, read, and enjoy visits from family and friends. A diagnosis of inoperable breast cancer in 2012 was a further blow, but with support from Anne-Marie and a dedicated team of carers, Eva was able to stay happily in her own home until late last year.
Eva is survived by her daughter Anne-Marie and step-siblings Carmel Gallagher (nee Lyons), James (Jim) Lyons and Marie-Therese Rice (nee ‘Fiona’ Lyons), all formerly of North Mall, Westport.
In accordance with her wishes, Eva’s body was cremated in a simple ceremony in Norwich on Friday, January 30. A full funeral service for her ashes is to be held at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Westport on Monday, February 23, on what would have been Eva’s eighty-seventh birthday, followed by interment in the Clarke family grave at Aughavale Cemetery.
Her remaining first cousins living in Westport are Liam Lyons, Eddie Lyons, Aiden Clarke, Ciaran Clarke and Francis Clarke; also Justin Clarke in Castlebar and her first cousin Jim Lyons living in Ennis
Fr Patrick Lyons OSB, her first cousin is coming to Westport from Glenstal Abbey to say the Mass before the placement of her ashes in her mother and father’s grave on Monday, February 23.