Lives Remembered

Mary and Pat McElhatton: Co Tyrone couple who found love in London and life of adventure and fulfilment in Canada

Mary and Pat McElhatton

MARY and Peter McElhatton grew up less than 20 miles apart in Co Tyrone, found each other hundreds of miles away in London, and shared a life filled with love, adventure and fulfilment across an ocean in Canada.

Mary was born Mary Josephine Keenan on a farm in Curraghinalt in the Gortin area of west Tyrone in 1930.

She was a fragile child and not expected to live long and so was named after the parents of Jesus. She would make it to almost 90 years of age.

Her parents were fluent Irish speakers and Mary always had a love of language and verse, but with 12 children in the family opportunities for education were limited at home.

Instead she worked in a hotel in Portstewart to raise the boat fare to England and begin training as a nurse.

It was while working at Eastham Memorial Hospital in London that she met Peter John McElhatton at an Irish dance.

From Killeenan near Pomeroy, the second eldest of 11 children, Peter had come to England following the death of his father in 1946, one of thousands of Irish who helped rebuild the country after the Second World War.

They married in Mary's home church of Rouskey in 1955 and were just a month shy of their 62nd anniversary when Peter died.

Mary first trained at Barking Hospital and then worked for many years in hospitals in London.

Modest, humble and used to hard work, she was joined by her sisters Rose and Kathleen and together they impacted thousands of lives.

She and Peter also travelled home regularly to support their families, enjoying many long days in the sun cutting turf with the Keenans.

Peter was a talented wrestler as a young man. His capture of an all-Ireland championship from an Englishman in the late 1950s made him something of a celebrity, and he went on to win six European titles.

He also had a fascination with Western films and ballads and the stories of Irishmen who left to make their fortune in the Americas.

He loved the poems of Robert Service and carried a well-worn pocketbook which he would read to his three children, hoping to inspire them with tales of adventure and the virtues of a simple and honest life.

In 1967, he and Mary decided to write their own story with a new life in Canada.

Their destination was Edmonton - sharing the same latitude as Tyrone but 4,000 miles removed - and it was a journey that felt part destiny, part imagination and part dream.

Peter worked as a mason and his wife enrolled on business courses to manage the work.

When the family moved across the country to Ontario he also worked alongside his son Anthony, including at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and fulfilled his frontier yearnings with travels across the US.

He also kept up wrestling in the early years, appearing regularly on television in Canada, and would run most days for an hour or more.

Peter was a humble and honest man, who lived by a code of hard work, discipline, and perseverance and always saw the beauty in simple things.

Mary, meanwhile, was fiercely interested in world affairs and loved poetry, horses, fresh air, making soda bread, and cooking meals for the family.

She attended daily Mass for most of her life and supported many charitable organisations including church groups.

Even when she was on the verge of utter collapse, her kindness, gentleness, generosity, and empathy for others shone through.

Peter and Mary were intensely proud of their seven grandchildren — Theresa, Matthew, Aisling, Conall, Roisin, Cashel and Bridget - with a great-grandchild, Kairi, following in 2018.

They helped many Irish people who arrived in search of work, including several of their siblings, and returned home themselves more than 40 times to a holiday home outside Cookstown.

Peter suffered several illnesses in later years and in his final days, Mary was hospitalised with him after breaking a bone in her right leg during a visit.

They had recited the rosary together every day of their married lives and drew strength again at this time from their faith and each other.

It was fitting that Peter went to heaven in Mary's presence, and when her own time came she told her children that he had visited her to say "You're leaving this place", having journeyed ahead on the path and made sure she was following.

Peter John McElhatton died aged 90 on August 27 2017. Mary Josephine was 89 when she died on February 24 this year.

They are survived and sadly missed by their children Anthony, Monica and Bernadette and large family circle.

Mary and Pat McElhatton

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