Residents of Laurel Lodge nursing home in Longford share their stories and memories of yesteryear

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

With Nursing Homes Week 2017 taking place from May 29 to June 5, focus has turned to the older people in our community and the care that they receive in our nursing homes.

One such nursing home, Laurel Lodge in Longford town, has set up a 'History Hub', which brings together residents and staff members from across the facility to discuss various events in history.

“We integrate every aspect of the nursing home into that activity,” said Recreational Therapist, Margaret Norton of the hub.

“People from each section of the home come together for a chat and a cup of tea.”

Last week, the group met to discuss the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

“I was in the shop at home and I remember hearing a news flash on the radio and I was crying. I told everyone who came into the shop that day about it,” said Mae McCann, referring to the grocery store she ran in Clonahard.

“It was a great shock to people to hear it because he was reckoned to be half Irish,” said Nell Mulligan.

“He was a nice, humble man,” she added, to murmurs of agreement from her peers.

John Nolan can remember the day well: “I was queuing up to go into a Dublin suburban cinema,” he said.

“A few other cinema-goers began to queue behind us and had heard it on the radio or television before they left to go to the cinema.

“I saw him in June as he drove from the airport to the president's house. I was about 25 years old,” he added, referring to Kennedy's visit to Ireland earlier that same year.

“I didn't know he had died until I was home from the cinema.”

This statement struck up a conversation about the assassination itself, with residents remembering that 46-year-old Kennedy didn't actually die until 30 minutes after the shooting.

The worst thing, said one resident, was watching Jackie Kennedy trying to get out of the car, while the secret service pushed her back in.

She had a “beautiful pink suit and a beautiful pink hat” the ladies in the room recalled of the fashion icon's appearance on the day of the assassination.

The conversation then turned to the swearing in of Vice President Lyndon Johnson on board Air Force One two hours later.

“And Jackie was still wearing her blood-soaked pink suit,” the group recalled, lamenting the quickness of proceedings and how difficult this must have been on the first lady.

After some discussion about this, conversation turned to 'the Kennedy Curse', and the fact that so many members of the Kennedy family met their end in unnatural ways.

Also discussed were the rumours that the Kennedy family were linked to various crime organisations - including the Mafia - and made much of their family fortune by bootlegging booze during the Prohibition.

“I never knew what all the fuss was about,” said another resident, Michael, who broached the subject of the Kennedys being connected to crime.

“What did he do for this country? Nothing. What did his brother do? Nothing. What did his father do? Nothing.

“The father was a ladies' man and organiser of a lot of crimes - bootlegging especially.

“I was home with my mum within a couple of months of him dying and she had a big picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall and I said 'what is that doing there?',” he said, with a number of residents agreeing that it wasn't uncommon in Irish homes to have a picture of JFK hanging on the wall.

“He was charming. He had a way with people, but you couldn't believe a word he said,” Michael added.

There were some mixed opinions of the man himself, but each of the residents could remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

In fact, that opened up a conversation about the death of Princess Diana in 1997 - an event which both the residents and the staff could remember clearly.

“Sometimes we might go off on a different tangent, but it's good to get people talking about different things and to keep the memories going,” Margaret Norton told the Longford Leader.

The History Hub is relatively new to Laurel Lodge, but provides an excellent opportunity for residents to reflect on their past by discussing events in history that affected the lives of families and individuals all over Ireland.

The topic for the next historical discussion at the nursing home will be 'The Emergency' in Ireland during World War II, and how that impacted the lives of those who remember it.