Remembering Mary Owens 1923 -2022 (Part 1 of 5)

One of the most worthwhile endeavours of Blantyre Project is the pleasurable task of recording the stories of Blantyre residents. Even more so if the person being interviewed is of Blantyre birth and now in advanced years. The task absolutely switches from myself commenting on local history, to rightly being quiet, carefully listening to others and learning about their fascinating lives and insight into their memories of “Auld Blantyre.”

On Saturday 3rd September 2022, I was kindly invited by Katrina Owens to visit Flemington Care Home, near Dalton to interview her elderly Aunt, Mary Owens. Mary was at the time a remarkable 99 years old and at time of interview, it was only 6 months until she reached the lofty heights of 100 years of age.

Sadly, however, Mary passed away in October, just a few weeks after I interviewed her, making the following record all the more important.

Surely, this a person who can tell me a thing or two about Blantyre? Of course, I jumped at the chance to be able to tell Mary’s life story, even if only in a shortened version here. It’s sincerely hoped the following article, checked by Mary’s family, preserves her memories and life experiences for literary enjoyment by future generations.

So, that Autumnal Saturday, I drove to nearby Flemington Care Home, which was still under covid pandemic rules. Face masks worn when signing in, and testing negative, the staff knew in advance I was arriving and had kindly set aside a quiet little room, where I set up my laptop, whilst they fetched Mary. Katrina was also present which I was thankful of, as it offered Mary a chance of feeling instantly more comfortable with this unknown, Blantyre historian about to ask questions.

Mary arrived in a wheeled chair, wrapped up cosy and warm in bright clothes, for it was a damp day outside. However, the interview was held inside, in the warmth. Though quiet at first when meeting, her warmth and charm and occasional wit quickly came to the forefront of our conversations. This incredible, clever woman sitting in front of me, almost a Century old, her eyes conveying curiosity and interest. Slowly, one-word answers transformed into stories and anecdotes about her interesting life, as her confidence grew and I sat and listened intently.

Life and Times of Mary Owens

Mary Patricia Owens was born at Blantyre at 5.30am on 27th February 1923. The child of Irish immigrants Hugh Owens, a miner and Catherine “Kitty” Keoghan or Keohan who married in Belfast in 1920. Growing up at the Village, the family first lived at ‘Blantyre Lodge, a former detached unique looking house, which once formed part of Blantyre Works for the nearby mills. When asked where she lived ‘as a small child’, Mary quickly replied, “I was never small. I was a big and fat child!”

The 1920’s was a difficult decade for most people in Blantyre. As cutbacks in post WW1 years gently gave way to hope, misery for many ensued when unemployment became rife, talk of general strikes were prevalent and closures of collieries became a worry for families, especially those whose homes were tied to employment. The 1920’s though also tried to “clean up” Blantyre with many new, larger homes built and a constant improvement programme of slum clearance.

A typical mining family, there never was enough money to do much, something Mary admits. “As children, we never had any playparks set out. We just got out and about, doing our own thing and our parents let us run around freely.” When asked about friends, Mary was somewhat evasive, perhaps unintentionally whilst remembering all those years ago. However, she did remember a little girl, named Ellen, who left Blantyre to go to Rutherglen, who must have made an impression.

Mary is pictured in 2022 alongside her kind niece, Katrina.

Continued on Part 2 tomorrow.

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