Maureen and Jim Nelis: Derry streets bloom with honeymoon cash

By Owen Thomas

image captionMaureen and Jim Nelis won first place in the residential category of the City Centre Initiative Annual Floral Competition

A newlywed couple from Londonderry kissed goodbye to a high-flying honeymoon and chose to share the love with their nearest and dearest.

Maureen and Jim Nelis, who were both previously widowed, married in January.

They decided that instead of spending a lot of money to travel somewhere exotic, they would bring beauty to their own doorstep, by saying it with flowers.

The couple decorated all of their neighbours' houses with fresh blooms.

They injected some colour into Harding Street and Abercorn Terrace with window boxes, hanging baskets and floral decorations.

Their act of kindness has dramatically changed the appearance of the area.

Mrs Nelis, who is in her 60s, has lived there for more than 30 years.

She decorates the steps every year and when Jim left his house and moved in with her, she suggested instead of giving away his plants they could use them to fill up the space.

image captionAbercorn Terrace is the birthplace of songwriter Phil Coulter and is where the Undertones recorded 'Teenage Kicks'.

"We both painted the pots and I added the trims to lighten them up for this year and then it was a matter of planting away," she said.

'Spanish Steps'

"Once we had the steps done, we gave some plants to a couple of neighbours who are special to us,"

After that, other people asked if the couple could do something for them too.

"Instead of going some place to look at something beautiful, and then come home and still not have any flowers here, we forgot about the honeymoon and put the money back into the neighbourhood," Mrs Nelis said.

Mr Nelis, who will soon be 84, agreed with his wife that they had made the right decision.

"You go there and you look around to see what you haven't seen before and it's beautiful - but you leave it all behind you, and you come back, and you have nothing," he said.

"So we decided that we'll have our own wee holiday right outside our own door.

"Now we have our own lovely flowers and everything else all year round."

The newlyweds had been planning to visit Florence in Italy but changed their minds.

Their neighbours said their act of kindness was "amazing".

"They are all very grateful. We received a lot of thank-you cards and some gifts through the door," said Maureen.

"They're helping each other maintain the plants, they're watering for each other, you know, so they have to speak to each other.

"I've met new people through this, they've come up the steps and they've introduced themselves, so we've been more than happy."

image captionThe newlyweds met at a music night shortly after they were both widowed.

The couple's story has spread on social media, attracting locals and tourists to the Abercorn steps.

The power of Facebook also reunited Jim with a friend he had not seen in more than 40 years.

"He said my name was mentioned online and he said to himself, 'I know him.' So he came to visit and I had a chat with him in the house.

"It took a wee minute or two for him to come back to me because it was a long time ago, but we used to work together when we were younger, he just lives down the street now.

"He said a few things and it suddenly all clicked - we had a fantastic chat."

image caption"I’d normally have my tea sitting in my house watching television, but now I just get a cup of tea, don’t even think about it and come straight out here and sit," said Jim.

"This space we have is special," Jim added.

"The way we see it, if we'd gone on the honeymoon, the money would just be gone.

"Maybe we'd have had a lovely time and enjoyed it, but this way our money is still here - we have the pleasure of it all here.

"It will never be wasted, it's there in front of us every day we open our front door."