Phil Cronin and Lou Hands sit down with Sarah Horgan to reveal the story behind their remarkable friendship.
WHEN best friends Lou and Phil parted ways for secondary school they never imagined that the next time they’d see each other would be in a nursing home.
However, the pair are picking up where they left off and continuing to make cherished memories together.
Now 92, Phil Corcoran from Shandon Street and Fairhill native Lou Hands are living proof that a true friendship never ends. The pair are enjoying their golden years together at the Bon Secours Care Village and can often be seen dancing the evening away at the facility’s regular events.
The remarkable story began with a chance meeting.
“I met Lou’s husband Graham, who has since passed away, at a quiz here and asked him if he came from Wales.,” says Phil. “He said he did and that was when I asked if he knew Lou. He must have called Lou because in what seemed like no time she was at my room, sopping wet and still wearing her raincoat. She eventually came to live here too and now stays in the room that Graham once did.”
“Phil is a great girl,” says Lou. “If you have a problem she’ll sort it for you. If I need advice she’s happy to give it and vice versa.”
The pair haven’t looked back since, except to reflect on the good old days!
“We started school together at the age of five in North Presentation National School,” Lou explained. “My father owned the Ormond and Aherne Bakery in Shandon Street. It was different back then because you had the confectionery on one side and the groceries on the other. Phil’s house was right across the road and that’s how we got so friendly. My family didn’t live where the bakery was. Our house was in Fairhill where there was a field for the horses. The stables had managers so my mother introduced fowl. They were able to lay their eggs there so we did alright.”
Phil can still remember the kindness shown to her by Lou’s family.
“Her brother used to bake every Monday night and give us free lemon buns with icing,” Phil said. “They were a penny back then but money is so different now.”
Lou also enjoyed indulging in her brother’s cakes.
“My father had sent him to Birmingham for three years to learn about confectionery,” Lou said. “Funnily enough, he was a terrible writer but if you asked him to write on a birthday or wedding cake it always turned out beautifully.
The pals were no strangers to mischief. Lou recounted one memorable incident.
“One of the girls in our class lived on a farm and often invited people over for a bit of fun,” Lou said. “Anyone who was invited was allowed to bring a friend. One day at her house I told the girls that there was a “lovely boy in the tree.” Phil bravely went over to climb it and get a better look. That boy in the tree ended up becoming her husband.”
Phil chipped in.
“That farm is still running but I often wonder if my tree is still there.”
Phil recalled how she was lost for words after setting eyes on her future husband Wally.
“I don’t think I even said hi at first,” she said. “We chatted a bit. For a while after that, I only saw him in the distance and sometimes at mass.”
Phil had to kiss a few frogs before realising her true prince had been there all along.
“I can remember this one boy who used pass me at the shop at 3.40pm every day on his way home from school. We eventually went out together. That was my first kiss and I absolutely hated it. I nearly ran for my life after leaving him that night. They were innocent times back then.”
While Phil’s first kiss was disappointing there have been many other enjoyable milestones since
“Lou’s birthday was last August,” Phil pointed out. “She was 92 so I gave her a bag of butter toffees. I know she loves butter toffees. The drawer in my room is always filled to the brim with butter toffee sweets and tissues.”
Both Lou and Phil have always had a sweet tooth.
“Lou and I had a friend named Theresa and we were a trio then. Theresa’s mother worked in confectionery and always wore a turban. She made the most beautiful cakes. Every day we would swap lunches at school. She’d take my rasher sandwich in return for her cakes.”
Lou and Phil learned early on in life that all good things must come to an end.
“Lou was sent to Loretta boarding school. I, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to leave home and attended Miss O’Sulliivans on the South Mall.”
Despite spending years apart there wasn’t a week passed by that Phil and Lou didn’t think about one another.
“I went on to meet my husband Graham,” Lou said. “I had gone to Galway on holiday after my mum passed. The hotel where we were staying was a bit dead so we decided to go across the road where there was music and dancing. I was looking for someone interesting and spotted a man with a blazer and a crest. I thought he was a bit of alright. I smiled and he returned the smile. We later went for a walk on the beach. It just so happened that we were staying in the same hotel. It goes to show what’s to be is to be.”
She puts her chance reunion with Phil down to fate as well and is enjoying the next stage of her life.
The 92-year-old says she enjoys calling to Phil for chats in her room but one of her favourite things about the Bon Secours Care Village is breakfast in bed.
“I love that there is breakfast in bed and no cooking to do. The staff here are wonderful and couldn’t do enough for you. We couldn’t fault them.”
“The staff are great, although I don’t have the appetite for breakfast in bed anymore,” she laughed.
Phil explained that she sometimes shies away from evening socialising.
“I usually stay in my room after 6pm and hope that there’s something on the radio. I know I should probably go out and meet people but that’s what I tend to do.”
One of Lou’s favourite times of the day is lunch.
“The kitchen staff are great because they’re open to criticism. They’ll often ask us if we had any problems with the ingredients. Everyone is very humble.”
Lou stressed that she and Phil are open to helping anyone in need of a friend in the care village.
“We want to boost the place for anyone contemplating coming here,” she said.