My recent appointment as a member of the editorial team at Irish Tatler magazine is as exciting as it is illustrious. I wasn’t a week in the company when I was given the incredible opportunity to attend the Irish Tatler ‘Woman of the Year Awards.’ This was the perfect occasion to celebrate women for their personal achievements against all the odds; in spite of adversity, disability and oppression. What an absolute honour to share words with Philomena Lee, a heroine of mine, who inspired the author Martin Sixsmith to pen her story about her tragic journey to find the son that was taken from her. Philomena’s story is both achingly tender and heart-breakingly poignant. As a naive young teenager in 1950s Ireland, Philomena fell pregnant after attending a local dance. Like many other ‘fallen women,’ Philomena was sent to a convent for three years, having lost her position as a valuable member of society. Philomena spent three years in Sean Ross Abbey until 1955 when her son Anthony was taken out of her care and effectively sold to an American couple who renamed him Michael Hess. Philomena, whose story was immortalised in the film of the same name, never stopped looking for her son, despite a series of obstacles preventing them from crossing paths. Yet the most striking thing about Philomena was the composure with which she spoke. Her shame at having a son out of wedlock, the harsh reality of living in the Magdalene laundry was not reiterated in sullen or bitter tones but with a sadness that has left an indelible mark on her soul. Probably the most striking thing about Philomena was the serenity that radiated from her, conveying an immense sense of acceptance and a huge capacity for forgiveness. I marvelled at her integrity and bravery as she faced so many roadblocks on her journey to find her son. Unbeknownst to her, he had been shipped off to America to begin a new life where he would eventually work for the American government administration under George Bush senior. Anthony’s and Philomena’s paths were constantly crossing but never meeting in the middle and Anthony tried to find his mother so many times but failed each and every time. Philomena never had the chance to say goodbye to her black-haired boy who died of AIDS, having never known his true heritage. Yet, here was a woman who was full of smiles; who had time for everyone; who just wanted her story heard. I am so proud to have met with Philomena and witnessed her story. She was a truly beautiful soul and a courageous woman who deserved to have her name honoured. I was thrilled to speak to her and hear about her wonderful relationship with her son Kevin and her daughter Jane, the driving force behind her quest to find Anthony.
Not only did I met the radiant Philomena Lee, I also met Joanne O’Riordan, one of seven currently living people born with the condition Tetra-Amelia syndrome, meaning she has no limbs. The best thing about Joanne is that she is ‘pure Cork boi,’ through and through. Her ascerbic wit cut through the audience and she had everyone in stitches with her self-deprecating humour. Her open and humorous nature endeared her to everyone and I loved chatting with Joanne and her sister Gillian. Joanne was full of one-liners and had an hilarious rapport with her sister whom she claims ‘will never make the limelight’ like she had! She was such an open book; we chatted about boys, college and all the normal stuff that young women talk about. Other winners of the night included Miss Panti, whose noble speech at the Abbey softened even the hardest of hearts. If you haven’t watched it, I’ve linked it here, but beware, you will bawl your eyes out. Panti was the honorary woman of the night and was as glamorous as she is mischievous. Other fierce women of the year included Caroline Keeling of Keeling’s fruit, Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human rights and Equality commission and Siobhán Parkinson, legendary Irish children’s writer.
I’m wearing a vintage 1950s dress I bought from the most amazing vintage store in Waterford (Vintage Trig) which stocks the most divine one-off pieces. I also bought some amazing gloves here hand-crafted by the couterier of the former Queen. Check out Vintage Trig here.
Outfit inspiration: (From Left to right)
Dress 1: Crepe and beaded chiffon 1960s evening gown from Vintageous.com, approx €135.
Dress 2: Ted Baker ‘Rhysa’ dress, €650, available here.
Dress 3: Laurel Hill vintage 1950s dress, €155. Available here: