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Alyson McHugh writes....

I was born in Wimbledon, London to Irish parents and lived with my parents and brother in Wandsworth, South West London. I was educated in Honeywell Junior School Battersea, Grey Coat Hospital School Westminster and Villiers School Limerick.

Our home was a happy one, with lots of love and good humour. My Mother was originally from Limerick, of Palatine descent, with a strong work ethic which was instilled in us. She was a keen gardener and tended to our beautiful garden with enthusiasm and joy. A stone plaque, discreetly placed in one of the flower beds of the garden read ‘the kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth’.

My Father joined the British Army in 1939 and was involved in some of the most notable events of World War II. He was originally sent with the British Expeditionary Force to France and evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940. In June 1944, as part of the D-Day landings, he was parachuted into Normandy with the Glider Wing of the 6th Airborne Division and participated in the breakout of the Normandy bridgehead which took Caen. In early 1945, he took part in the liberation of Norway.

My brother, Samuel, is an abstract artist and member of Aosdána, a body administered through the Arts Council to recognise outstanding contributions by individuals to the creative arts in Ireland. He is a lifelong Chelsea Soccer fan.

In the late 1960s, we moved to Ireland and I attended Villiers School. Villiers was a mixed School with only 160 students at the time. Most of the students had come through primary school together so friendships were long established. It was an enormous change from my life in London, I missed my friends, my school, my ballet, my tap dancing classes and the familiar surroundings that I had grown up in. But gradually those things faded and I settled into a new and very different way of life.

After school, I returned to the UK where I trained and worked as an Assistant Air Traffic Controller in North Yorkshire. I lived in a small village near Ripon, one of the last cities in England to have a Hornblower!

On my return to Ireland, I joined Castle Tours in Shannon Airport. Castle Tours was a joint project between Aer Rianta and Shannon Development, and one of its main purposes was to attract group tours from the North American market into Ireland. During my time with Castle Tours, I was sent to New York for the winter months, based in the Shannon Development Office on 5th Avenue. Travelling into the city from JFK, I knew I was going to love New York, and I did. Before my first working trip, I purchased a ‘Micheline Guide to New York’ which proved to be indispensable as I navigated my way around Manhattan. At weekends, I would leave my apartment on East 53rd Street and follow one of the routes suggested in my guide. I would visit Galleries and Museums, picking up a “Chock Full O’Nuts” enroute and happily singing along to any one of Billy Joel’s brilliant songs of New York, as I strolled through the busy avenues and quiet side streets. During week days, after midday, I would regularly purchase half price theatre tickets in Times Square to Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows for performances that night. My colleagues introduced me to the Manhattan night life which I embraced with gusto! It was great being young and carefree in the city that never sleeps.

In 1985, I met my lovely husband Bryan in Limerick. We were engaged and married within 10 months of our first meeting. Our son, David, was born in 1988 followed by our daughter, Stephanie, in 1990 and our daughter, Alexandra, in 1992. Family life was hectic and didn’t allow me very much leisure time but I did manage to continue playing tennis in Limerick Lawn Tennis Club. While playing tennis with Mary Rose she often mentioned the IWO and one day invited me as a guest to a themed lunch in Eileen Sherry’s house. What struck me most about the lunch, apart from the very delicious food, was how warm and friendly all the women were, I was welcomed into their company with ease. At this stage, I was working in Bryan’s accountancy practice so I was unable to attend the daytime activities, but I did play Shanghai in the evening once a month. I then joined the book club and finally when I gave up work, I joined the Mah Jong Group. I have seen how supportive and encouraging the members are to one another, and how happy and willing they are to share their knowledge and experience. Long may the IWO continue!

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