Belfast Telegraph

As Nan turns 101 and Gwen 100, the two lifelong pals prepare for party to mark a timeless friendship

By Nevin Farrell

An amazing friendship between two women who shared much in common throughout their long lives is to be marked with a joint birthday party to celebrate one reaching 100 and the other turning 101.

Gwen Parkhill hits the centenary mark on May 29 and Nan McLaughlin will be 101 on June 5, and a special party will be held in their honour at Ratheane care home in Coleraine.

Both women were born during World War One, became friends as teenagers in the 1930s, and ever since have never been far apart.

In a touching moment that illustrated their enduring friendship, the pair clutched hands and admitted: "We couldn't do without each other."

As well as their longevity, Gwen and Nan have much in common.

They were born in the same town of Dungiven and moved to Coleraine, where they lived in Union Street for many years. They attended the same church, worked in the same shop, got engaged in the same week, and their husbands bought rings in the same jeweller's.

Now they both live in the same care home, and in a few days' time they will both be centenarians.

The red carpet will be rolled out at Ratheane on June 3 for Gwen and Nan, its oldest residents.

After leaving school at the age of 14, Gwen met Nan when they both secured jobs at JJ McLean's grocers in New Row in Coleraine. Gwen served customers while Nan was employed in the upstairs office.

When they got engaged in the same week, their future husbands bought rings at Steele's in Coleraine.

Gwen married John Parkhill in 1942. The couple had two children and she is now a proud great-great-grandmother. Mr Parkhill, who worked on the buses in Coleraine, passed away in 2002.

She said: "My husband was literally the boy next door; his mother rang our bell one day and asked me if I wanted to go to the pictures with her son.

"John and I slept at the top of adjoining three-storey houses in Union Street. When we went to bed every night we'd knock the wall three times; it was our way of saying goodnight.

"As well as living in the same street as Nan, we went to the same church."

Nan was widowed at a young age when husband Charlie suffered a heart attack. The couple had no children.

An emotional Nan recalled her grief after plasterer Charlie passed away. She said: "It happened a long time ago; there was only one Charlie. He was a good man. It was a terrible shock and I've never got over it."

Gwen moved into Ratheane from her Union Street home three years ago, around the same time as Nan, who at that stage lived at Nursery Avenue in Coleraine.

Their amazing bond, which has spanned the generations, continues to grow and, together, they attend weekly Sunday services at Ratheane.

Last year Nan received congratulations from the Queen on her 100th birthday; this year it's Gwen's turn to hit the milestone anniversary.

Nan's former Nursery Avenue neighbour Jeannie McMichael (96) is also now a resident at Ratheane, which has provided a home to many centenarians over the years.

Gwen said she kept her mind active by reading a book every week. She joked: "I still like a bit of romance in my life and I love doing puzzles. I'm very organised and if I want something I just ask for it. The staff are very good and Nan and I are happy here."

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