Just Jean: the lady is for turning 80

A young Jean Murphy (back right) on a rare family outing to Portrush. She is pictured with sons Harold (on her knee) and Noel (standing). Also in the picture is her mother Emily, beside her, and in the front row are her cousin Dorothy Ferguson, brothers XXXXX and Rusty the dog
A young Jean Murphy (back right) on a rare family outing to Portrush. She is pictured with sons Harold (on her knee) and Noel (standing). Also in the picture is her mother Emily, beside her, and in the front row are her cousin Dorothy Ferguson, brothers XXXXX and Rusty the dog

As thousands of people all over Great Britain celebrated the end of the Second World War 70 years ago to the day yesterday (Friday), amongst them was a 10-year-old girl from Co Tyrone named Jean Forsythe.

May 8 would forever be a day etched in her memory, as not only was it the date which marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces, but it was also her 10th birthday.

And seven decades, 11 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren later, the now Mrs Jean Murphy has just become an octogenarian.

She celebrated this incredibly special birthday yesterday, right at the end of what has been a week she will probably never forget.

On Monday she welcomed the arrival of her 11th grandchild, little Emily Lee Frances Murphy, the fifth child of her youngest son David and his wife Julie.

It was a happy occasion but also a somewhat emotional one for Jean and her family, for this little girl, the Murphy’s own ‘Royal baby’, arrived on the 10th anniversary of the death of Jean’s late husband Frank.

And to add to the collection of birthdays which the family celebrate at this time of year are those of Jean’s eldest great-granddaughter, Miss Kacey Elizabeth Frances McKenzie, who turned six on May 3, and her own grandmother, and Jean’s daughter-in-law, Janet Murphy, whose birthday was on Tuesday.

It’s not just this time of year that is a busy one for Jean when it comes to dates and anniversaries - two of her sons, Noel and David, were born on Christmas Day, whilst her third, Harold, arrived on December 10, which was the day she and Frank got married. What are the chances?

Born in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, Jean moved to the Killyman area outside Dungannon in 1944 and spent her early life growing up here. The daughter of Lindsay and Emily Forsythe, she has six brothers - Edmund, Alec, Gordon, Jim, John and Kenneth.

On December 10, 1955 she married Francis Joseph Murphy at St Andrew’s Church Killyman. The couple went on to have three sons. And she says that these memories are the best of her life.

“I would say that when I got married, and then had my first child, and then my second, and my third - I thought that life couldn’t get any better,” smiles Jean, who today lives beside the Co Armagh townland of Summerisland.

“For me it is all about family - I love my family. I’m happiest when I’m with them.”

Jean has lived through many ups and downs.

“I had breast cancer in 1987, and am still here to tell the tale,” she says.

The death of her beloved husband Frank in 2005 hit her and the whole family hard.

“When Frank passed away, I said to myself, you either sink or you swim,” she says, revealing that she decided to keep as busy as possible, and today certainly has a busier schedule for a lady her age than many who are half of it, being a dedicated member of a number of organisations in her area, including the Women’s Institute in Killyman, the Mother’s Union in her church, St James’ Parish Moy, local senior citizens’ and toddlers’ groups, and a craft class.

She has lived a full life - and it’s far from over yet. The big question is - does she have any remaining ambitions she would like to fulfil?

“I would love to go on a Mediterranean cruise, but I don’t think it will happen,” she says. “It’s the only thing I haven’t really done. I’ve been to Canada, and to Spain loads of times, and the Canary Islands, and I’d really like a cruise. But I can’t see it happening.”

However, knowing Jean the way I do - for she is my grandmother - I personally wouldn’t rule this dream of hers out just yet.

We at the News Letter would like to wish one of our most loyal readers a very happy 80th birthday indeed, and hope she goes on to make many more joyous memories with all her family and friends.