Margaret would never have entertained the notion that she was extra-ordinary – but she was. She was extra-ordinary because she acted courageously, because she was actively kind to others all of her life and because she remained modest and optimistic throughout. She left home at an early age, travelled to a foreign land and made a new life there. She fell in love and built an enduring marriage. She loved and provided for all her children equally and she endured the early death of her first-born, but still raised herself up and carried on. She gave her time and her compassion freely to those who were in need and she finally sacrificed her golden years, totally and without complaint, to the care of her husband.
Margaret was born in the small hamlet of Meenmore, north-west Donegal, in the young free-state of Ireland. Her home was a small farmstead, nestled in a beautiful mountainous and coastal landscape. As a child she ranged across the hills and hollows, to her extended family in Meenbannad, to the nearby town of Dungloe and throughout the Rosses region, guided always by the generations of her family that had preceded her.
Margaret was nurtured by her grandma, by the force of nature that was her mother and by a close-knit family and community. Her own father, a ‘tunnel tiger’, was often away from home for long periods, constructing massive engineering projects in the UK and further afield. Margaret held an abiding love for all of them and for her brothers and sisters, for the rest of her life.
Margaret worked on the family farm from a very early age. She often spoke of the pleasure and pain of rising early to milk cows before school and delivering the produce to those who needed it desperately. Her services as a house-maid were also ‘lent’ to other families and Margaret often spoke of enjoying this work. The most notable of her commissions was for Paedar O’Donnell, a teacher, venerated writer, socialist activist and veteran of the Irish war of independence. Margaret fondly remembered Paedar and his wife Lile as loving, intelligent and kind people.
In time, like so many of her peers, Margaret looked abroad for the promise of adventure and fulfilment. She almost emigrated to the USA but decided instead to train as a nurse in the Eastern District Hospital in Glasgow.
It is supposed that through her father’s connections she went on to work as a children’s nanny for a senior manager of the developing Scottish hydro-electric projects. Margaret often spoke of this time with the Carmichael family and their three young daughters as a very happy period in her life. It was, perhaps, the catalyst for raising her own family.
It was during this time that she and dad were re-acquainted in their hometown. They fell in love and were married in 1953. They started their married life in London and followed the available work to settle in Bedford.
Their marriage was a true partnership, of devotion to each other and to the practical matters of raising a family of five children and ensuring they thrived. They sustained and complemented each other, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health and until death parted them.
Margaret lived a life without envy, jealousy, or prejudice and her quiet example was inspirational.
She was not militant but she understood injustice and she was active in personally providing direct help to those in need. Many lonely, vulnerable and elderly men and women benefitted from the practical help she gave them including personal care, shopping for groceries and by simply being a constant friend in their lives.
She felt a kinship with others regardless of their race, creed, or nationality. She welcomed them, often with too much tea and cake, as friends and neighbours. She recognised herself in them and appreciated them as human beings worthy of respect. If she were able she would still be helping those souls who, even now, are still seeking a better life in this foreign land.
This church and community of Christ the King was centrally important to Margaret. She was a founder member and contributor to this parish. She prayed each morning when she awoke and each night before she went to sleep. She took responsibility for herself but she placed her trust in god. Her own simple faith steadied her in times of doubt and suffering and helped her find meaning in her joy, to the very end. She made the sign of the cross as she was finally anointed just hours before she passed away.
In the last few years of her life Margaret was one of the many beneficiaries of the work being done by our own St Vincent de Paul Society volunteers. They reached out to Margaret and her family with kindness and practical help. Jon Foster was the most visible face of the SVP for Margaret and he deserves a special mention in dispatches, as her tireless and good-humoured ‘taxi-driver’ for so many years. All of you involved in this outreach work deserve thanks and encouragement to continue. There were also so many of you in the parish who kept Margaret in their hearts and in their prayers and, for all your acts of kindness, we thank you.
Margaret was also very fortunate to receive the attention of two wonderful professional carers from Dial House Care, called Maria and Shirley. They demonstrated their professionalism, respect and love for Margaret on a daily basis, by treating her as if she were their own Margaret. They were directly responsible for improving Margaret’s quality of life and helping to extend it. Our family are indebted to them for their dedication.
There is inevitable gloom when a loved one dies. But letting this gloom linger for too long would be a dis-service to a woman who lived a remarkably positive and productive life in the service of others. We should be consoled that her final suffering was mercifully short and her life was long, meaningful and filled with love. To honour the brave young girl starting out on her journey so many years ago, and in recognition of the woman, wife and mother she became, we can honour her by sweeping away our sadness and from this day forward living the very best lives we can, with optimism and love.