Eileen and Bernard France photographed at Thurles Station on their way back home to England after bringing their good friend, the late Catherine O’Meara, ashes back to her home town to be buried.
She went to England at the age of 24 for an appointment as a probationer nurse at the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. She remained there until 1951 when she moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Bournemouth where she achieved SRN status. Later she worked as a midwife at the St. Helier Hospital in Carshalton achieving State Certified Midwife status. And then to Hull to become a night sister at the newly built Hull Royal Infirmary, living firstly in the city centre and then a council bungalow on an estate to the east of the city.
After retiring from the NHS, Catherine studied the dynamics of plants and trees at an agricultural college. She could tell you the biological names of most species and what's more she knew her weeds.
In 1997 she became a Eucharistic Minister at the nearby St Stephen’s Church. She was quite involved in the development of the church garden without most people realising.
In her latter years her health started to fail and eventually she accepted residential accommodation. Early in 2013 she moved to the newly built Alexander Court Care Centre as the first resident of Room 10. There she enjoyed almost four years of good health with the odd mishap or two. On Sunday, September 11, she was transferred to Hospital for what would be her final time. She died less than three weeks later, on Thursday, September 29, surrounded by a great deal of care and love.
So how did we (Eileen and Bernard France), ever get to know Catherine you might ask? We don't know what made her come to live in Hull and we’re not sure if Catherine did, but, she must have been very happy here because she spent over half her life living in the city.
I first knew her as someone who looked after the gardens at St Stephen’s, she sort of crept in and crept back out again. She never liked anyone helping her, even into her mid-eighties.
I got to know her better when she came to take fruit from my garden and talked about her early life, walking to school and the four miles to Mass through the fields. She also spoke of walking to the local Coolmoyne Creamery to get sour milk for baking soda bread and helping her friends with their homework. She loved poetry, both English and Irish poets, and still remembered lines from her schooldays. She told us of Fethard and the town walls, of Oliver Cromwell stabling his horses in the Augustinian Abbey and Slievenamon, the mountain of the women, as well as trying to teach us some words Gaelic.
Bringing Catherine back home was a task we were proud to have been asked to do. So in mid-April this year, we arranged to meet up with the friends she talked about over the many years we knew her. Her good friend was Nellie Ryan, the mother of Tommy Ryan of Ballintogher, his wife Theresa and his sister Peggy Colville. We were also fortunate to meet up with Maura Ryan, Marion Nagle, Kathleen Nagle, Stephen and John Nagle, Ellen Keating along with John Slattery and his sister Joan. We were made most welcome by everyone in Coolmoyne and Fethard and made to feel very much part of Catherine's family in Ireland.
Undertaker Vincent Murphy was very helpful and made all the necessary arrangements for us. Parish Priest Fr Tom Breen said Mass before officiating at a service in Calvary Cemetery where Catherine's ashes were interred alongside her parents and her brother Bill. Our task was done and we had brought our good friend Catherine home.
– Bernard France, Kingston Upon Hull, UK.