Irene was born at New Street in Bentley growing up during wartime. Her parents Charlie and Ena were clearly very busy at this time so much of Irene’s happy childhood was spent with her grandparents who, along with great uncles from Ireland ensured that she was thoroughly spoiled by contributions from everybody’s sweet ration. Irene went to school in Bentley but her time in the Girl’s Brigade run by Miss Booley was particularly memorable because she played the piano as the other girls learned to march.
Irene left school at 15 and went to live with her parents in Stainforth where, much to everyone’s surprise she acquired a much younger sister – Rosina! Rosina told me that Irene was a very good big sister – pushing her around Stainforth in the pram using this as cover for doing a bit of courting. At Stainforth Irene worked in a number of shops; at Melia’s and the Meadow Dairy Grocers shops. Her capable entrepreneurial spirit was clearly to the fore at an early age as she went on to manage a shop for Jackson’s at Balby. Just like her mum, Irene was always immaculately turned out aided by the fact that she was a very talented needlewoman.
Irene met Johnny when she was bicycling to work and he was a window cleaner. As was often the case in those days it was a long courtship. But it seems that the clinch came when Johnny won £100 at the local club. They got married in 1958 and went to live with Irene’s parents in the Ingram Arms at Hatfield. Clearly life as a publican appealed because they began working as relief managers for Darley’s looking after pubs on the east coast. But it was when they took over two pubs in Pontefract – the Beast Fair Vaults and the Ancient Borough Arms – that Irene showed her inventive flair for business especially catering by setting up a champagne and oyster bar. They moved to the Sun Inn where Irene did major catering for weddings and functions but also developing lunchtime meals which were much used by the mature students and the staff of Scawsby College.of Education.
Irene and Johnny were not blessed with children so the pub became much more than a business – it was her house and her home – decorated to her own style with many personal touches: except perhaps during Race Week when all the breakables and valuables were packed away while the pub was filled to bursting point. After leaving the Sun Inn, Irene and Johnny moved to the Anne Arms where her reputation for magnificent catering carried on and where she was regarded as a much loved and vital member of the local community. Clearly Irene and Johnny were a formidable team: Johnny was in charge but Irene a driving force who provided the entrepreneurial flair to make things a success. It is no surprise that they won a Pub of the Year Award. Irene loved her dachshunds; Arthur, Arthur and Beauty. They were so much part of the family that when Johnny and Irene retired for the night it was often the dog who went to bed first.
Irene and Johnny finally moved to the Burghwallis and again made a great success of it: building it up and setting it very firmly at the heart of this village. At heart Irene and Johnny were private people so it wasn’t clear how ill Johnny was when he died. His death hit Irene hard but she continued to work supported by her nephew James and the rest of the family. I was told that when she finally retired she became a lady of leisure but in reality she had a gift for keeping busy using her time living at Hatfield to breathe new life into the WI and the Ladies Luncheon Club.
There was always more to Irene than running pubs: she travelled extensively visiting Russia before the wall came down and travelling to Lapland on Concorde. In later life Irene found great friendship and companionship with Joss. They have been inseparable and Irene’s family asked me to express their thanks for the devotion he has showed in caring for her. Recent years have seen a gradual physical decline and lack of mobility and thanks must be expressed to the staff at Northfield Care Home who looked after her so well. Irene died peacefully with Rosina beside her. It is fitting that she will be laid to rest with Johnny here at the heart of the community to which she gave so much.
The Christian belief is that death is not the end; our promise is that in Jesus God became like us so that we might be like him. He died as we die so that we may rise again as he rose again. We pray today that Irene will rest in peace and will rise in glory, Amen