Not many people have the opportunity to live out their childhood dreams. But, thanks to the support of her community, Belfast grandmother Lillian Whelan was able to do just that.
Through a difficult and turbulent time in her life, Lillian was supported by Good Morning Ballycastle, a project run by COAST (Causeway Older Active Strategic Team) which uses money raised by National Lottery players to combat isolation in vulnerable people on the north coast.
Lillian first visited Ballycastle as part of a cross-community peace event, and fell in love with the town.
“I decided that I wanted to live there,” she recalls. “It just felt so good to get away from the city. We used to cram as many of the local kids as we could into our Volvo to bring them here for the weekend.
One time the soldiers stopped us in west Belfast and asked us all to get out. They were scratching their heads because kids just kept coming – I think 19 was the most we ever carried but there was no law against it then!”
In 1986 she and her husband bought a house in Ballycastle but couldn’t convince their teenage children to move. Instead they decided that the couple would move there when they retired. For years Lillian lived on that dream. But, just before she could realise her childhood dream, Lillian’s life took a turn which tested her mettle to its core.
“One day just three months before we were set to retire my husband decided he didn’t want to move,” says Lillian, whose life changed forever with that decision. She was not going to give up on her dream so easily though.
“Even though I was about to hit my 70th birthday I said I’d go anyway. No-one believed me but I stuck to my word and moved to Ballycastle for a new life.”
The move was a big adjustment – especially because of Lillian’s poor health. But with good neighbours and supportive family, she was able to make the most of it.
Then, another devastating blow. Just when Lillian was settling into her new life, her son suddenly died.
“I got very down but I still went to my mass every day, though if there was a funeral on I’d have to leave and go outside for a cry,” says Lillian, whose health quickly deteriorated under this stress.
“That’s when they organised for the wee community bus to lift me each morning for mass and as I got to know the other people on the bus they became like an extended family to me.”
Lillian’s next door neighbour, Brenda Boyle, was involved with Good Morning Ballycastle. The programme is managed by Ballycastle Church Action and, thanks to funding raised by National Lottery players, they’re able to support vulnerable people like Lillian every single day.
Every morning, Good Morning Ballycastle volunteers phone a list of vulnerable people just to ensure they’re well. If they don’t get an answer they call at the house to make sure there’s no emergency.
Last year, COAST, who fund this service, have recently received £445,000 of National Lottery players’ money. Their new four year project supports Good Morning Services and helps older people connect with other activities to get them out and about again.
For Lillian those morning calls have made all the difference.
“I just love that wee call in the morning because it reminds me people care. It’s been a lifeline.”
Through Good Morning Ballycastle Lillian also got involved in the Over-55s and a lunch club too.
“Getting out and about again has given me back my confidence. Good Morning Ballycastle has helped me get back in the rhythm of life. It took me four years to come out of that deep depression then one day I thought, I’m sure my son’s happier where he is than I am here, even though I loved Ballycastle.
“Then and there I decided life was for living. Now I try to make other people feel like they’re worthy of being happy again.
“Before I got involved with Good Morning Ballycastle my life was very dismal. I loved Ballycastle but within myself I was very sad. I just can’t explain the richness the project has brought to my life.
“The fact that people are just so good makes me want to carry on. I loved my life in Belfast but this is the way everyone should be able to live in retirement.”
To find out more about Good Morning Ballycastle, have a look at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ballycastlechurchaction/
For more information about COAST and their other projects for older people, find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/coastnetwork/