By Jennifer Purcell
Friends and family gathered at the London Irish Centre’s Kennedy Hall this week to raise a glass to one of their oldest friends at her centenary celebrations.
Galway nurse Mary Talbot moved to London in the 1930s, aged 18. She treated British soldiers who were evacuated from Dunkirk at the beginning of the Second World War.
Last week, she celebrated her 100th birthday at the London Irish Centre in Camden, near the home where she raised her family. Mary was born in 1918 at the end of World War One in the small Galway village of Aughrim.
A century later she celebrated her birthday with friends and family at the Camden Irish Centre’s Luncheon Club, her ‘home away from home’. Shortly after arriving in London, in 1936, Mary went to Margate, with her cousin, to work at the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, which originally treated patients for tuberculosis.
Following the breakout of World War Two three years later, Margate became a base for soldiers coming back from Dunkirk. Mary’s daughter, Nina, spoke of one of the most vivid memories her mother took from her time in Margate: “My mum never particularly wanted to do theatre work in the hospital but one morning she saw her name down for theatre. It was a young soldier who unfortunately had to have his leg amputated.
“My mum had to hold onto the leg that was being amputated. At such a young age, she was seeing the horrid effects of the war.”
Ten years after her arrival in London, Mary married a Dublin man whom she met at one of the capital’s many Irish dance halls and they raised six children at their home in Camden. As a young couple, they regularly visited the London Irish Centre where they played cards and socialised at dinner dances and events.
Mary is well-known and loved by the local Camden community for her time spent as a dinner lady and, subsequently, as a teaching assistant at Our Lady’s Catholic Primary school.
In her later years, when she retired from work, Mary was encouraged by friends to return to the London Irish Centre to be part of the Day Centre’s Luncheon Club.
“The London Irish Centre has been such an inspiration for mum,” said her daughter, Nina, “after our father died at just 75, she went up for the company and hasn’t stopped going ever since.”
Mary is one of the London Irish Centre’s longest members, coming to the LIC’s Day Centre for almost 30-years. The London Irish Centre charity holds a Luncheon club each Monday, Wednesday and Friday where the community comes together for dinner, games, activities and fortnightly tea-dances.
“I think it’s a Godsend. What I love about the Irish Luncheon group is its community,” said Nina. “When you look around at the people my mother has met through the Luncheon group, her friendships have trebled.”
Caitriona Carney, Director of Community Services at the LIC, said: “Mary has been coming to the LIC for over 60 years and tells great stories about her nights dancing in the McNamara hall.
“For Mary, the London Irish Centre is a home away from home, where she has formed life-long friendships in her later years.
“As one of our longest members, Mary brings joy and laughter to our weekly groups. It is a privilege to celebrate Mary’s 100th Birthday at the Centre.”
Mary still maintains her independence as she celebrates 100 years, her daughter Nina said she believes it’s down to her ‘strength of character’.
“She’s a very strong-willed woman, she’s very determined. She is so independent and she never lets anything beat her.”
Mary lives at home with her son, who has spastic paraplegia.
“They support each other,” said Nina “sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
At the event, Nina said: “If my mum hadn’t gone to the Irish Centre, I don’t know how different her life would have been. She wouldn’t have achieved in her older life, what she’s achieved.”
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