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Northern Ireland triplets (86) are forced to spend birthdays apart for first time ever because of coronavirus

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Close bond: from left, Marigold Milliken, Iris Bull and Primrose Page on their 85th birthdays

Close bond: from left, Marigold Milliken, Iris Bull and Primrose Page on their 85th birthdays

The triplets over the years

The triplets over the years

Close bond: from left, Marigold Milliken, Iris Bull and Primrose Page on their 85th birthdays

For three Belfast sisters, the Easter weekend should have been the time for a big family celebration.

But the UK's oldest surviving triplets will instead, for the first time the family can remember, celebrate their birthdays in isolation in light of the Covid-19 guidelines.

Primrose Page, Iris Bull and Marigold Milliken all turn 87 on April 16, having been born on Easter Sunday 1933, and have been almost inseparable ever since.

All three still live not too many miles apart in Bangor, Holywood and Castlereagh.

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The triplets over the years

The triplets over the years

The triplets over the years

Instead, the wider family will observe the new social distancing norm and will be making phone calls from around the country, with cakes and cards left on doorsteps.

"It's going to be a different sort of birthday for the three of them," said Page McLaughlin, Primrose's granddaughter.

"We had plans to all get together as usual on Easter Sunday but that's not going to happen now as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in Northern Ireland. My granny and aunties are all still living in their own homes and given their age and health conditions, they know we can't all be with them this year."

Born in the south east of England, the triplets moved to Belfast with their parents and older sister Marguerite not long after the end of the Second World War.

"My great-grandad John Bull had been in the Royal Air Force, but moved to Belfast with the family while working for Shorts," said Page.

Though the celebrations will be muted, Iris Bull said that even though the family can't be together, they'll be with each other in spirit.

"We're always there for each other," she said from the isolation of her Castlereagh home.

"I look a little like Primrose but the three of us always had to fight for our own identity and I think that did us a lot of good over the years. We tried hard to stand out and we're all stronger for it.

"We've enjoyed separate lives, but together.

"We have our ups and downs like all sisters do, but we're still looking out for each other.

"I do recall during our days at primary school when I got punished instead of Primrose and she never spoke up, but I forgave her a long time ago for that!" she laughed.

"You'd think there would be battles over boyfriends to tell, but that was never the case. We were lucky we never went after the same boys, and that the boys always liked one of us and not the others!

"We all try to stay as active as we can, though that's been difficult lately," she said.

"I write and have had stories published, Primrose still plays piano marvellously and Marigold started knitting shawls for stillborn babies some time ago and she's still at the knitting today so we've all got our specialities," she added. "We try to keep our minds active too. Reading newspapers, doing crosswords, that all keeps us in shape!

"We're very big into family celebrations but we'll just have to wait for the next one and make up for lost time when we can. There's a new baby in the family and we were all supposed to meet her when she came over from Scotland at the end of March so that was a disappointment, but we'll make up for lost moments soon enough," she said.

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The triplets over the years

The triplets over the years

The triplets over the years

Primrose worked as a ward sister and superintendent in the health service, Iris for the civil service and as a school administrator, and Marigold was a BT telephonist.

"My grandmother married Wilbur Page and that's where I get my name from," said Page.

"They had two children, my mother Rosalind and her brother Timothy. Marigold also has one son, Edward," she added.

"Family occasions like this become all the more precious as the years go on so of course we'd all love to be together, but the best way we can think of showing them we love them all is by staying away.

"Sure we will make it up to them on their 88th birthdays next Easter!"

Belfast Telegraph