May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand….
Agnes (Gertie) fulfilled her wish and died peacefully at home on 6th February aged 89 years. Her loving son Tom was at her bedside and held her hand as she passed away.
Gertie was born in Ballinalee, County Longford, Southern Ireland on 14th June 1930. She was the youngest of 11 children, but sadly 1 child died in infancy of Hooping Cough.
Her father John McKeown, a Master Tailor, ran the business from home, importing cloth for his suits from Yorkshire. He would sit cross-legged on the table while he worked, the tailors irons heating on the range. Gertie remembered pictures of Micheal Collins and Patrick Pearse (1916 Easter Rising) on the wall.
Her mother Catherine looked after the home and children, Molly, Bridie, Kathleen, Tom, Mike, Patrick, Eveline, Chrissie, John and Gertie. The house was basic with turf fires and drinking water brought in from the well. As a child Gertie would have her long hair washed with rainwater.
Times were hard in Ballinalee and surrounding villages. John’s customers would often pay ‘in kind’ for their suits, with poultry, sacks of potatoes or vegetables. When the ‘Yanks’ visited the village, business was good, plenty of suits were bought with cash!
Children often went barefoot to school, common in those days. School was strict, Gertie’s teacher Master Mannix kept a cane in the classroom fireplace to harden and didn’t hesitate to use it!
Some of the family left Ballinalee to find work. Tom was a tailor in Boyle and Patrick joined the Irish Army, often sending money home to his mother. A close family, they always kept in touch.
Gertie left school at 14 to work in King’s store, next door to her house. She would pack flour, tea and groceries and would help best friend Peggy behind the counter. Christmas was busy, early morning to late evening packing gifts for the regular customers, maybe a bottle of port and a bottle of ginger beer for the children wrapped up in brown paper. Catherine would prepare a big joint of bacon and a goose for Christmas dinner, but never turkey, she thought it was too dry! Catherine would make the Christmas pudding months earlier.
In her late teens Gertie enjoyed going to the local dances with Peggy King and Betty Heany. Peggy still runs J King’s Store Ballinalee aged 88 and has all her wits about her!
Aged about 18, Gertie left home to work in Belfast, as a housekeeper for Doctor Keenan’s practice.
A few years later she came over to England, joining sister Eveline in Birkenhead. Gertie worked as a live-in housekeeper and nanny to the Hoskinson family, who ran a firm of solicitors. She often spoke of the Hispano Suiza luxury car in the garage! The Hoskinsons had a holiday home in North Wales near Deiniolen Gwynedd. Gertie would take the young children, Peter and Angela, on long walks down the country lanes, the fresh air and exercise would help them sleep.
Gertie eventually left Birkenhead to live with sister Chrissie in Ellesmere Port. Gertie worked in the Bowater mill making paper bags and later Geo L Scott laminations making parts for electric motors.
Harry, a painter and decorator for Ellesmere Port Council, was painting the houses in Chrissie’s road. He met Gertie and they soon started going out together.
They were married on 17th March 1954, Saint Patrick’s day, in RC Church of our Lady Star of the Sea Ellesmere Port. Although Harry was protestant, Father Campbell agreed to marry them. Gertie’s brother Patrick (now living in Birkenhead) and his wife Doreen were the witnesses. Harry and Gertie had £5 between them so there was no honeymoon, just a night at the cinema!
They lived in an upstairs flat in Little Sutton and Tom was born in 1955. Once Gertie locked herself out of the flat but borrowed a ladder and managed to climb in through an upstairs window, without laddering her stockings! Gertie would often take young Tom in his push chair to Little Sutton to play on the swings with his cousin Kathleen – Patrick and Doreen’s only child. Gertie would walk for miles, sometimes to Ellesmere Port and back.
In 1957 the family moved into a new council house in Great Sutton with a back-boiler and immersion heater, a washing machine with a mangle to wring out the clothes – all mod-cons. The floors were covered in ‘Lino’ and Gertie used to mop them clean. Tom used to get his legs smacked when he came in with his muddy wellys on!
Gertie went back to work as a home help for Cheshire Social Services Ellesmere Port. She looked after the elderly in their own homes doing the shopping, cleaning and providing companionship. They all asked for Gertie, she was their favourite home help!
In 1981 Harry, who by then worked for Vauxhall Motors, took early retirement. Gertie, Harry and Tom bought the council house between them thanks to Maggie Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme.
Tom left Great Sutton to live in Crewe and was married in 1986. Gertie and Harry stayed in the council house until 1992. Gertie took early retirement and they sold up and moved house in 1993.
Harry sadly passed away in 1999 and Gertie lived alone in Great Sutton but stayed with son Tom in Crewe some weekends. Tom took early retirement from Urenco Capenhurst in 2008. Sadly Gertie’s health gradually deteriorated and Tom became her full-time carer.
Gertie had always kept in touch with her brother John. They would exchange letters reminiscing about the old days back in Ireland. Fortunately they met up and spent precious time together, thanks to her nephew Robert (John’s son) and Tom, before John passed away in 2018.
In later years, walking, housework, baking, reading, knitting and watching the soaps on TV, her favourite pastimes, were all lost, but Gertie could always manage a smile!
Gertie was the gentlest, most caring, and loving person you could ever wish to meet.
May she rest in peace.
Family flowers only please but donations if wished to Dementia UK