While the names and nominations of potential Presidents of Ireland continue to occupy the broadcasting airwaves and printed pages, Glenties woman, Isabella McLoone can boast, like the current incumbent, of having enjoyed two spells in Aras an Uachtarain.
One came earlier this month when she was a special guest of Mary McAleese and her husband Martin at the magnificent house in the Pheonix Park.
But she first entered the doors of the Aras some sixty-four years ago as a young member of the catering staff, remaining on in the role for a two year period at a time when Sean T. O’Ceallaigh was serving as President.
There she not so much broke bread with some distinguished visitors as made it - her culinary skills ensuring that taste buds were always sated both by the President and his family and those who also sat at table as guests.
“De Valera was one of the people who visited during my time there,” the affable 80 year old recalled.
Of the then President O Ceallaigh, she had huge regard. “He was a gentleman - very nice. I remember him as a low set man with glasses.”
Unnerving as it may have for the sixteen year Isabella Greene to venture from her native Donegal to serve in the home of the President, she was treated like royalty. “Mrs. O Ceallaigh had me ruined. She spoilt me rotten. I was very well looked after.”
Isabella’s father, Con, had originally served as Station Master at Fintown and it was around then that his daughter commenced a catering course in St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny where Fr. Arthur McLoone then presided. Along with Margaret Roarty, she spent eight months there before the opportunity arrived for a prestigious post at Aras an Uachtarain. Her parents, Con and Madge, let her go and she remembers the tears at the parting. At the forefront of her mind, however, was an ambition to go into nursing - an ambition she was to fulfil following her return from her posting with the President.
“When I came home, daddy had been changed to Mountcharles and I took up employment at the Seamount Hotel.” A female doctor on holidays from Scotland came to stay at the hotel and persuaded her to travel to Glasgow where she would undertake nurse training. The young Isabella subsequently took up a position in a private nursing home, the Mount Florida clinic in Glasgow, and in all spent thirty years nursing in the city. And it was there that she met her husband-to-be, John McLoone - though they had become in some way acquainted many years before that!
“On the day I was born in the Gatehouse in Glenties, John, whose father was a friend of my own father, came to see the new arrival with his mother. He was eight and a half years old then.
“So we weren’t quite strangers!,” Isabella smiles.
John and Isabella returned from Glasgow two decades ago and she was honoured to be asked to cut the ribbon at the launch of the Fintown rail project fourteen years ago.
“My wish is to win the lotto and donate money to the railway so it can be extended to Glenties and down to Stranorlar,” she insists. The current station building requires a new roof.
The couple have three offspring, sons, John, who lives in Derry, and Brendan in Glasgow, and daughter, Marjorie.
Isabella’s recent jaunt to Aras an Uachtarain at the invitation of President McAleese - ill health forced John to miss the experience but her brother, Sammy, accompanied her - saw her renew acquaintance with a vintage car that is kept in the compound and was used to transport President O Ceallaigh in his day. “He took me into the city in it,” she recalls.
Her visit also reinforced her opinion that Mary McAleese should be awarded with a third consecutive term as President.
“She gave me a very warm welcome. She’s a real lady and I think they should let her remain on there she has done such a good job in her two terms there.
“From my own point of view it was a great honour to be asked along as a special guest and as someone who had worked there in the past. And I’m grateful to everyone who sent me best wishes following the visit including my pal in Ardara!.”
Isabella has three siblings including Sammy who resides in Milford, Neil in Loughanure, and Mary (McGarvey) in Annagry. Two other brothers, Connie and Michael, are deceased but fondly remembered.
And at her home in Glenties she continues to bake bread, a taste of a former life in the hallowed surroundings of Aras an Uachtarain.
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