Our mum and dad always made sure that we had a happy Christmas even though money was tight growing up in the 1960s and they had to work hard for every penny. They left their homes in County Monaghan in the 1950s having met at a dance in Carrickroe Hall and eventually established a hairdressing business in the front room of the family home in the market town of Chorley Lancashire. Mum was the hairdresser, having trained in Northern Ireland, but Dad soon became skilled with her help and numerous training courses.
It was a busy time of the year with the locals, mainly ladies who worked in the cotton mills, wanting to look their best for their visit to the nearby social club or the family Christmas party. Each day the postman would bring us colourful cards and news from our various relatives in Ireland. After they had closed, Dad would be off to collect the turkey while we counted down the hours until Santa arrived.
On Christmas Day itself, Mum would remind us, as we ploughed through the wrapping paper, of her Christmas Day in 1930s Ireland – an orange in a stocking and a walk in the snowy darkness of the early morning to participate in three consecutive masses in Latin, all on an empty stomach. Along the way, they would look for light from the Tilly lamps in the neighbours’ windows.
Sadly, our dad passed away in 2008 but Mum still worked in the salon.
‘You need a purpose,’ she always insisted.
That purpose kept her working until she was 91 years old! She was the UK’s longest-working hairdresser, a BBC Radio Lancashire Community Hero and a radio, television and internet sensation as her story fascinated anyone who heard it. She even went back to work in the midst of the Covid pandemic as soon as she was allowed! She believed that everyone was 20 years younger than their true age. She didn’t believe in growing old.
Sadly, she passed away in August 2022. She never retired and looked forward to the day she could go back to the salon but it wasn’t to be. Our remarkable and inspirational Irish mammy achieved more than she could ever have imagined, growing up in a tiny whitewashed cottage in rural Ireland where water came from the well, light from an oil lamp, bread was baked on the open fire and butter was churned. Not only that, she lost her mother at the age of 5 and was brought up by her eldest sister who was just 18 when she took charge of 5 young girls.
I captured our mum’s remarkable life in my book Shampoo and Set 75 Years as a Hairdresser of which she was very proud, but of course, she would never admit it! A light may have gone out in our lives this Christmas but she will shine on in our memories for the rest of our days.