Lives Remembered

Lily Rea: 'The best looking girl in the Bone'

Lily Smyth

LILY Rea was the best looking girl in the Bone.

So as not to offend any other ladies from the Bone - the Oldpark area of north Belfast - let me explain the story behind Lily’s claim to fame.

Born Elizabeth Smyth in May 1932, to parents Charlie and Mary, Lily was later joined by siblings Sadie and Charlie at 92 Ardilea Street.

The story goes that she had plenty of admirers in the Bone district in the early 1950s and they weren’t too happy when a big young lad from the rival Ardoyne area came calling on her.

Despite the competition for Lily’s hand, it wasn't a contest - love at first sight won the day and big Rab Rea soon swept her away across the Brickyard to Ardoyne.

Lily and Robert (Rab) Rea on their wedding day

"He stole the best looking girl in the Bone,’' lamented one of her heartbroken admirers.

This and many other yarns were recalled recently after Lily passed away peacefully at the Royal Victoria Hospital, aged 89, after a life well-lived.

Lily had often spoken of working at the Beltex on the Crumlin Road, where boxing champion Freddie Gilroy was a local hero, and recounted the terror of the Blitz in 1941, the air-raid sirens, and the rush to Gracey’s Fields in the north Belfast foothills to escape the German bombing.

Many years later, the pupils of St Gerard’s School listened avidly when Lily, then in her early seventies, visited to recount life for a nine-year-old back then, and of the hardships endured by everyone just to make ends meet in the following decades.

As well as Irish history and a passion for wildlife, Lily liked nothing better than a good book or documentary on Egyptology, a subject she found fascinating.

One of the first batch of families to move into the Turf Lodge estate in west Belfast, 7 Norfolk Way became home for Lily and big Rab Rea in the early 1960s and through thick and thin, it remained so for the next 60 years with six boys and one girl, and then grandchildren and great-grandchildren, keeping them well-occupied.

Lily later worked in the Ulster Brewery and as a volunteer assistant for the fledgling Turf Lodge Credit Union in the 1970s ­– and in recent years many a charity benefitted from her generosity.

The loss of her beloved Rab back in 2001 was a heavy blow, and one she never truly got over.

But she battled on bravely, enduring with dignity the loss of her sons Robert and Paul in recent years, and also her siblings Charlie and Sadie.

A much-loved member of the Holy Trinity Church and Turf Lodge community, Lily leaves a lasting legacy of precious memories.

‘The best looking girl in the Bone’ is now heaven’s gain.

Thomas Hawkins

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Lives Remembered