AN ENNISTYMON native, who is one of Ireland’s oldest citizens, will celebrate her 106th birthday on Friday, January 29.
Nellie Jude formerly lived in Newquay on The Flaggy Shore, where she is much loved by her neighbours. She moved back to North Clare after a long career in England where she trained as a nurse and where she and her husband, Ernest Arthur Jude, ran a number of very popular pubs in London and Essex.
Christened Helen Garrihy in January 1915, she is the daughter of Michael and Helen Garrihy (née Vaughan). Nellie had 12 siblings and, at the age of 19, went to train as a nurse in England at The Royal Chest Hospital. She married Ernest Arthur Jude from Cambridgeshire and had two children, Phil and the late Jenny.
Along with Ernest, Nellie went into the pub trade, proving to be a very popular and respected landlady. “She was as great character in the pub, but you certainly didn’t ruffle her feathers,” said her niece Kathleen Cullinan from Doolin, who spent time in England working with her aunt and uncle. “They had a pub in the East End of London called The Dog and Truck. They later moved to Essex where they had The Hoy and Helmet. Nellie loved the pub trade, but you certainly didn’t start an argument in her pub or she’d throw you out.”
Kathleen also recalled how, during that era, the East End was also home to the infamous Kray twins. “They were the Robin Hoods of the Day in some ways,” she said. “I was out with my cousin and a car with blacked-out windows came along, so I met them. I had no idea who they were and Nellie told me later. It really was Life’s University and the area became Canary Wharf and the financial district. It’s unrecognisable now from the way it was in Nellie’s time there.”
In the mid-1980s, Nellie returned to Clare and made her home beside The Flaggy Shore. As luck would have it, she got to meet Séamus Heaney, who wrote the famous poem about her adopted home. “She was Ballymaloe for dinner once and Séamus Heaney and his wife were there too,” Kathleen explained. “As was her way, Nellie said, ‘Oh my dear, I know you,’ and they got talking.”
Kathleen also recalled Nellie’s generosity in looking after her late father, Jack Garrihy. “Even though she was older than him, she would come to the house and stay for a week or two and make sure he had all his meals cooked,” she said.
Because of the pandemic, birthday celebrations will be a little more limited this year and Nellie marked the big day with a party for fellow residents and staff of St Dominic Savio Nursing Home in Liscannor. “She is in amazing form ahead,” said Kathleen. “She is so well cared for at St Dominic Savio. We won’t be able to go to visit, but we’ll speak to her on the phone. We’re in touch regularly and before the latest lockdown, I got to visit along with my daughter Anna for Christmas. Anna would normally cut do her hair for her.”
The birthday cake will come from Unglert’s Bakery and among those sharing remotely in Nellie’s celebrations will be her Clare-based family; her son Phil and his wife, Chris; her five grandchildren, Aran, Abi, Robbie, Dan and Phil; and three great-grandchildren Jacob, Sidney and Ruby.
One of the best birthday presents of all for this inspiring lady is likely to be the vaccine against Covid-19, which Nellie is due to receive in the days before she turns 106.