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16 October 2014

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Philomena Cooper: My Grandparents' Legacy

My Grandparents' Legacy

By Philomena Cooper
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"In 1991, my elder daughter, Helenka, went to America. They were intrigued by her being British with Irish roots and she came home determined to trace her family history. I told her what I knew, well aware that there were huge gaps.

My grandfather was an Irish farmer's son who was destined for the priesthood but rebelled and ran away to Canada. My grandmother was an orphan from Belfast, shipped to Canada aged 16. They met and married about 1909.

They returned to Dublin with five children and started a bakery business. My dad, Joe, married a beautiful Dublin girl, Kathleen, and I was born in 1938. World War II broke out and I went to live with my grandparents.

My childhood was idyllic. We had month long holidays in Bray, swimming in the sea; climbing Bray Head. The sun always shone.

They introduced me to the wonderful world of books which became a lifelong love of learning... and led me to become a graduate and a granny at 62.

Granddad died in 1945 and granny took over the business. Unknown to me, she had breast cancer. She never complained but fitted in her weekly visits to the clinic with her busy life right up to her death in 1956 aged 65.

Two months ago - at the age of 65 - I was also diagnosed with breast cancer. When the consultant told me, I felt a surge of positive energy that I knew was coming from Granny and decided to follow her example and carry on as normal. My options were greater than hers.

Ten days later I had a mastectomy. A week later I got the all clear. Granny's memory, my daughters support, and the support of my extended family have given me the strength to cope.

This has been a wake-up call. I am more determined than ever to fill in the gaps in my family history. It is all out there I just have to find it."

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a 65 year old grandmother and retired civil servant. I became interested in family history when my daughter returned from America full of questions about her heritage. It has become a fascinating hobby.

What's your story about?
How we became interested in family history and how events in the family have influenced my life.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
Some events linking to the past are very recent and therefore uppermost in my mind.

Any additional comments?
This is only a very small snippet of my family history.

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