Mary Allen: Always there for a chat, she was our ‘diamond’

Funeral for star of the London Irish Centre

Friday, 1st July

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FAMILY, friends, colleagues, volunteers and the first secretary of the Irish Embassy gathered in the dozens to celebrate the life of a community pioneer on Wednesday.

Mary Theresa Allen, who died earlier this month aged 92, began volunteering at the London Irish Centre in Camden Square in 1950 when she was 20.

Ever since, she tirelessly campaigned for better welfare for the Irish community.

Mary Theresa Allen

She later became trustee, vice chair and chair of the centre, and helped start the London Irish Festival. She also served as Life President at the Council of Irish Counties Association.

Her wide-reaching influence was evident at her funeral mass, as more than 100 people attended Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church in Kentish Town, bearing flowers, fond memories and respect to pay tribute to their friend.

Standing in front of the Irish Centre, where the cortège departed from, Mary’s youngest daughter Jackie Talbot said: “Between all of them, they built this place. If it wasn’t for that generation, we wouldn’t be here and that’s what I feel really proud about. Back in the 60s and 70s, and earlier than that, they helped people who came over here, who had nothing and they set up welfare. They did so much.”

Mourners paid homage to her hard-working, diplomatic nature, and roaring sense of humour.

Granddaughter Ricki Gilgunn, great granddaughter Ruby Awenat and granddaughters Carla Awenat and Maria Zacharias with favourite belongings

Mary Roberts, one of her friends, said: “She was a diamond. I met her here because I was the consort to the mayor in Islington. The minute we met we clicked. Oh, I adored her. The morning she passed I was going to make some scones. I was going to phone her but I thought it was a bit early. So I thought I’d do my scones first and then I’ll phone her. I did them, picked up the phone and she had passed. I was devastated. I was gutted. I still can’t believe it.”

Outside the church, more people gathered as the cortège arrived. Members from the Council of Irish Counties wearing green sashes lined the church steps. The Irish Ambassador was due to attend, but was called away for urgent business. In his place was Isobel O’Connor, first secretary at the Irish Embassy.

Bridget Gallagher, Mary Roberts, Teresa Lynagh, Peggy Stevens and Mary Murphy stand outside the London Irish Centre before the funeral

Her granddaughters and great-granddaughters followed the coffin down the aisle carrying Mary’s brooch, telephone, tapestry and photo – objects which best symbolised her – while Be Thou My Vision was sung.

Maria Zacharias, Mary’s granddaughter who carried the telephone, said: “She loved a chat. She could talk for England, it’s quite impressive actually. She’s amazing.”

Michael O’Connor, vice chair of the London Irish Centre, said: “We miss her very much and we’re very grateful for everything that she did. People like her are the foundations of community life.”

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