Obituary: Elizabeth Kennelly

  • Edmond Kennelly

Elizabeth and Ed

Elizabeth and Ed

She lived her life through small acts of kindness and love.

Elizabeth Kennelly 1920-2019

Without a doubt the Regan family are one of the most remarkable families I have ever known; Babe, Nora, Kit, Anne, Bridget, Winnie, Pak, John and Mum, plus Margaret who died at a very young age.

They were strong, resilient, determined and passionate people who were also loving, caring, thoughtful and very very loud. They could all be obstinate and were very seldom wrong. Mum had all these qualities and more.

They shared so much together and all their lives touched each others. As mum was the youngest girl, this meant that she was cared for by all her sisters at some time when growing up and, mum being mum, she would repay any kindness and looked upon it as her responsibility to always look out for her sisters and their children and in later life their children's children wherever they were - London, Ipswich, Cambridge, Dublin, numerous cities in America, and as far away as Sakata in Japan. Hearing from them on the phone, receiving letters or photographs always brought a smile to her face.

When you have lived for nearly 99 years you don't just read about history, you live it.

So let's start at the beginning.

Mum was born during the Irish War of Independence. She lived through the Irish Civil War and was brought up in the Irish Free State. She also saw the establishment of Ireland - Eire in the Irish language.

Mum recalled events that most of us have only read about in history books. She would tell you exactly where she was when WW2 broke out, she remembered being part of the celebrations in London for VE Day and for the coronation. Although Mum lived in London for over 80 years, she never forgot her Irish roots - maybe because she was an ORIGINAL Irish Londoner.

Mum would be the first to admit that life in Ireland in the 1920s was not easy. There was political unrest and economic hardship, and poverty, or what we would regard as poverty, was considered the norm.

Mum would always say that she had a fantastic childhood and she was very lucky, with a wonderful family, supported by two loving and selfless parents. They were self-sufficient in so many ways and Mum often explained how they made their own butter, cheese, and bread. They lived off the land with fresh vegetables and had home made soup every day and plenty of it. It was the good life and so when Mum came to London and eventually got married and had a family she continued the same principles that her mother had taught her.

Arriving in London, more precisely Willesden, ok let me start again…

Arriving at 29 Strode Road was the start of the second phase of Mum's life. She was 18 and although she enjoyed her childhood and loved her parents dearly she was excited by the thought of coming to London.

She worked in Service and spent her day looking after the children & keeping the house. At night she would go to the dances in Burtons, The Bambara, The Buffalo, The Apollo, The Garryowen in Hammersmith and The Blarney in Tottenham Court Road where she eventually met Dad. These were her usual haunts and it was common to go dancing five or six times a week.

A story that amused us all, even after hearing it a dozen times was how herself and a friend would take the neighbours small dog out for a walk and instead of going twice around Gladstone Park as the owner thought, they would run up to Cricklewood Broadway, into Burtons, tie the dog to the leg of a chair, spend half an hour dancing and then run home, to hear the owner saying that her dog had had a great walk and was exhausted!!!

When the war started, Mum left Service and went to work in the ammunition factories. The war changed much for Mum; rationing, the Blitz, the constant worrying about friends and family, but one thing that did not change was the dancing, and night after night herself and her friends Kathleen Madden, Mary McGreal and Sheila Shaw would "dance the light fantastic" as she would say. It was a place to escape and leave all the worries behind.

All through Mum's time in London she never forgot her family back home, keeping in regular contact, sending what money she could and visiting as often as possible.

For over twenty years, 29 Strode Road was her home, living with Auntie Anne, Uncle Mick, Michael and Hughie, and without a doubt Michael and Hughie were like sons to her. It was in Willesden that her life long association and friendship with the extended Halligan and Madden families started. She loved her life in Willesden and, as so many of you here today know, Auntie Anne's house became home from home to so many people and I am sure that the phase "Extended Family" was introduced there as everyone that entered was treated like family.

Mum lived with Anne and Mick and Uncle John until she got married in 1958 and then moved to Neasden. This was the start of the next stage of her life.

The three things in Mum's life that were fundamental were her family, her friends and her faith. Without a doubt her faith was central to everything she did in life, and for Mum it was love that cemented all three. She would never ask for anything or expect anything and would not allow us to ask for anything without saying "if it's God's will."

Mum had known Dad for a long time before they started dating and she knew he was a good worker, reliable and someone that shared the same strong family values as she did. I am sure it was not love at first sight but a marriage where two people wanted to be together, to live together and love each other until death and that's exactly what they did. Mum shared the same work ethic as Dad and the same values about family and faith. She embraced everything about Dad, his family became her family, his brother & sisters, nieces & nephews were hers and that's exactly how it remained, even after he died. This was no more obvious than in her beautiful and true relationship with Pauline.

I know for Mum, having Nora was a joy and having myself three years later was, I'm sure, the icing on the cake. A better mother we could not have wished for; she was always there for us, to offer advice and friendship, she opened her home to our friends and always made them very welcome and made sure they left well fed. She made sure we wanted for nothing and had an amazing skill of 'making ends meet' - living with Mum was like the story of the loaves and fishes, she could feed as many as arrived and still have plenty left for the unexpected guest. Her dinners were legendary, as were her soups and sandwiches.

As I said, all our friends were welcome but none more so than Michael and Amanda. She knew that were special to us and from the very first day regarded them as a son and daughter. One regret in Mum's life was that Dad never saw either of us marry but with her faith she knew he was happy and looking over us.

Marrying Dad and having two children was all Mum ever wished for and I don't think grandchildren ever entered her mind. I can still see her face the day she arrived at the hospital when Daniel was born; excluding Amanda I do not think that there was a happier women in the world that day.

Mum was a fantastic Granny and it was always a case of if Mum or Dad says no ask Granny. One of her greatest qualities was fairness, she never had favourites, so when Elizabeth, Hannah, Kathryn and finally Matthew arrived each one of them received the same love and attention as the other. Each grandchild has their own memories of their time with Mum and each one knew they were special in their own way. The greatest gift that she has left them are these memories and the stories she shared with them.

Mum was full of life and could put both Nora and myself to shame with her enduring energy. When she got her bus pass at sixty, Mum and Nora were on the way to the bus stop, Mum saw the bus and ran to jump on it. She showed her pass and asked the driver to wait as her daughter was coming - slightly out of breath - behind her. Days out with Mum were always enjoyable and food was always involved; a trip to Cambridge would start with the sandwiches usually being taken out by the time we got to Mill Hill and when we drove to Wimbledon in recent years I have known sandwiches to be produced by the end of Lansdowne Grove.

Mum kindness touched many lives. She had friends that she grew up with in Creavey, lifelong friends that she made when she came to London, friends from the parishes of Willesden, Dollis Hill, Stonebridge and here in Neasden. Her friends were both young and old and Mum had an ability to cross generations. This was no more obvious than the love and kindness that she showed to Mark Toner when he was staying with her. She loved company and did not like to see an empty bed, hence when I got married and was on my Honeymoon my room was quickly given to a wonderful young man that went to work for BA and has remained a true family friend for over 30 years.

After nearly 99 years lots of your friends have already passed away and, although so grateful for her life, she was also ready to go and join them. There were occasions over the last few years when we as a family and Mum herself thought that her time was up but she would always remind us in the morning, slightly disappointed sometimes, "well, He's not ready for me yet." Mum was tired. She had spent her life looking after people and it did not come naturally for her to have people looking after her as she never liked asking for help.

Today we should remember not just Mum and her sisters but also the thousands of other Irish women from her generation. These are women that you will not read about in the obituary section of papers nor find monuments or memorials in Whitehall, and there will be no blue plaques to commemorate where they lived. These are women who did not see work as a chore but a place they went to in between dances, that made their houses into homes not only for their family but for everyone that entered, that showed respect for their neighbour and put other people before themselves. They were generous with their time and saw it as a duty and a pleasure to help others. So it's not just Mum that we remember today but Mum's generation.

I know that if Mum was here now she would be saying don't cry for me because today I am the happiest I have ever been. I am with my family, my friends and I am with my parents. I am sure if you listen hard enough you will hear Winnie, Bridget, Anne, Kit, Babe and Nora all talking over each other ensuring that they have the last word - John and Pak will love the extra attention that Mum will be giving them and Mum will be in her element telling her parents, Dad, Pauline and everyone what a fantastic life she had. I would like to finish with the words that wherever you are today, Mum, may angels lead you in.

The last chapter has finally closed - the chapter entitled the Regan family. So let's raise a glass of whiskey, a cup of tea, a bowl of soup or an egg sandwich and say thanks for such a wonderful friend, neighbour, sister, aunt, daughter, Granny and Mother.

Elizabeth Kennelly died on 13 August 2019.

Tags: Irish, Obituary, Elizabeth Kennelly

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