'Mum's heart never left Belfast, her last wish was that I bring her home from Australia'
A devoted daughter has embarked on a 20,000 mile round-trip to fulfil her late mother's dying wish to come home to the place she loved, 45 years after she moved to Australia to flee the Troubles.
After a year of planning, Pat Marangos (55) will host an emotional celebration of her mother's life in her former Sailortown home, above what is now the American Bar, next Sunday.
Her mother, Ellen Verner, passed away on August 13 last year at the age of 91, 15 years after her merchant navy seaman father Johnny died, aged 79.
In 1972, the couple packed up and left Belfast with their six children. The family went on to "build a wonderful life" in Melbourne, but Pat insists that Belfast was always in their hearts.
"I always promised her I would bring her back, she sacrificed a lot for us by leaving her entire family to give us a better life, so I had to do this for her," Pat told the Belfast Telegraph.
"But Australia's such a big and vast place, it never had the same camaraderie and that was something they both missed."
Pat's brother Billy Verner (59) was the only sibling to return to Belfast.
He went on the study engineering at Queen's University, Belfast, after returning home at the age of 16, less than three years after the family uprooted.
"I have been back and forward quite a bit, but Belfast has always been home - my mum felt that too," he said.
The extended family will gather upstairs in the American Bar next Sunday in order to say their final farewells in the very place that Ellen and Johnny once called home.
"It will be so emotional, but I won't be able to rest until we have done this," Pat said.
The final send-off will take place after Ellen's ashes are scattered in the seaside village of Killough in Co Down, where she maintained a life-long bond following wartime summers spent on the beach.
"She loved it there, it was somewhere she missed greatly," said Billy. "She hasn't been home in 19 years, but she always made a point of visiting there when she was here."
A week before she died, Ellen told her daughter that she wanted her ashes scattered in the village which provided the backdrop to her own happy childhood. Pat, who works as a travel agent, has made her way home for the first time in 39 years to in order honour her mother's last request.
"I had to do it, I have been planning it for almost a year," she said.
"My brother Billy has our father's ashes, which means we can scatter them together in the place that meant so much to them."
They will then gather in the American Bar where old family photographs will be displayed and a collection of Johnny and Ellen's favourite music will be played.
Pat will be accompanied by her three children as the family come together for the emotional meeting, something she is very happy about.
"I think it's important that my children get a chance to see where their nan is from and how she grew up - but it's also the place I call home.
"I am really looking forward to laying them both to rest in a place they always called home - only then can I have peace myself. I will not be at rest until I have done this, I cried getting off the plane, because I know this meant so much to her, her heart never left Belfast."
American Bar owner Pedro Donald said he was "more than happy to help" when he received the unusual request from Pat.
"I just thought it was fascinating that this used to be someone's home and that people born in this house, which is now a bar room, are still alive."