Belfast Telegraph

Ellie Lawther, Northern Ireland's oldest woman, dies aged 109

By Allan Preston

A Belfast woman who has passed away aged 109 is thought to have been the oldest person on the island of Ireland.

Ellie Lawther died at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast on Saturday after a short illness.

Married to the late Harold - who previously worked for the Belfast Telegraph as a repair man - she had three children, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Ellie, a former seamstress, was born before Ireland was partitioned - a time when women didn't have the right to vote and cars were a rare sight.

She lived through the sinking of the Titanic, two World Wars and the creation of the welfare state.

She received nine birthday cards from the Queen and as many medals from Irish presidents. A resident of St Finnian's House on the Cregagh Road for 24 years, her son Frederick Lawther (79) said the family and her carers were left heartbroken by the loss.

When the Belfast Telegraph attended her 108th birthday party in March last year, she was fit and mentally sharp, sharing jokes and memories about her first dates as a teenager with her future husband.

Ellie's secret to a long life was said to be hard work, good food and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol.

Frederick and his wife Helen (78) said Ellie had been adored by her family and inspired devotion from all who cared for her.

He said: "We think she was the oldest person in Ireland, certainly in Northern Ireland.

"There had been two ladies who were a few weeks older but they're both gone, and as far as I'm aware, she outlived them."

Ellie's health began to deteriorate after her birthday, suffering from a number of falls and knocks after losing her hearing and eyesight.

Frederick added: "We knew she was on her way out but she did very well. She was like the house mascot at St Finnian's and everybody loved her.

"I was there just after it happened and they were absolutely choked with emotion, they were all very attached to her."

During her time there, she loved to sit in the garden chatting with residents, and with her skills as a seamstress was often the winner of the annual Easter bonnet competition.

Living in east Belfast her entire life, staying at St Finnian's allowed her to remain close to her childhood surroundings.

"She would share so many memories from her past - like going down to see the troop ships leaving Belfast and her cousin coming back wounded from the war.

"She remembered when Belfast had jaunting cars (taxi-carts drawn by a single horse) in the days before trams and everything was electrified.

"She spoke about being evacuated during the war years out to Drumaghlis near Ballynahinch with her whole family circle and coming back to Belfast after the Blitz."

After receiving honours from the Queen and Irish presidents, Mrs Lawther took her new-found fame in her stride.

"It was funny; she would always look to see what the Queen was wearing just to make sure it wasn't the same as the last one," Frederick said.

"She was the sort of person that didn't want a fuss over her birthdays.

"But at the same time she expected everybody to be there with a nice cake."

Frederick also thanked the many carers who had been so dedicated to his mother including her hairdresser Pat, who formed a close friendship with Ellie during their weekly appointments.

Mrs Lawther's funeral service takes place tomorrow at 12pm in Roselawn Crematorium.

Belfast Telegraph

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