Esther Jennings obituary: Glamorous, strong-willed and ‘fun to be around’

Lives lost to Covid-19: An independent woman who was devoted to family

Esther Jennings loved dancing, going to the cinema,  watching football and hurling.

Esther Jennings loved dancing, going to the cinema, watching football and hurling.

 

This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. Read more at irishtimes.com/covid-19-lives-lost. If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email: liveslost@irishtimes.com.

Esther Jennings

1924 – 2020

Esther Jennings was “a very good friend and amazing Granma”, says her granddaughter Emily, “glamorous, super-independent, strong-willed and spoke her mind. She also packed a mean jab of the fingers at the upper arm if you made the rookie error of sitting too close while she was midway through an enthusiastic story. Somehow, she never lost that strength to bruise!”

Born in Kilkenny on April 20th, 1924, Esther Young was the second-eldest with eight brothers and one sister. Her mother was a housewife and her father was a carpenter. After a few years in Manchester, the family settled in Donnycarney in Dublin. Growing up, Esther loved dancing, going to the cinema and watching football and hurling, especially when her brothers were playing; her brother Joe won an All-Ireland football medal in 1958 with Galway, and another brother, Tony, played hurling and football for Dublin.

At Kings Inn Street Sisters of Charity Primary School, Esther was taught by Margaret Skinnider, who had fought in the 1916 Rising, and admired her greatly. She taught Esther that girls and women were as important as men, and encouraged her to continue her education, but she ended up having to leave school to help her family.

Her first job was in Woolworths on Henry Street, initially on the sales floor before she moved to the payroll office. She loved the independence of working and wanted to pursue a career, having spent her childhood helping to bring up her siblings. (Her granddaughter Emily recalls a recent lunch with Esther, where she “reminded her 88-year-old brother, during a bout of affectionate bickering, how she changed his nappy”.)

Afraid she would have to give up her job, Esther openly said she would never marry, and resisted Paddy Jennings and his attempts to date her for several years. She eventually gave in to his charms and the couple married in 1950. They moved to Carleton Road in Marino, where they brought up their six children Mary, Pat, Bernadette, Anne, David and Carol.

Paddy died in 1987, and Esther still missed him more than 30 years on.

“We joke that after his decades of peace, she is now chatting the ear off him,” Emily says.

“She loved to socialise. She’d stomp her feet and shake her fists up and down in excitement at the punchline of a good story, ending with an enunciated ‘goodnight!’ She was always fun to be around. She never stopped talking.”

Esther was a woman of great faith, and willpower too. When the smoking ban was introduced in Ireland in 2004, she gave up her 50-year habit without much fuss, as she “didn’t want to look like a lady of the night” as she puffed on a cigarette outside Bewley’s on her morning trips into town.

“I never heard her say, ‘I am too old’. She went about her life as though she was always young,” says Emily, recalling a special trip Esther made to visit her in Belgium 10 years ago. “She was well able to keep up with me and my 20-year-old friends, entertaining us with stories of her past.

“In the last couple of years her body couldn’t quite keep up with her mind. It took some joy out of life and got in the way of other trips she would’ve taken to see her grandchildren. She was always so proud of us all and the opportunities we seized. In ways, she lived vicariously through us.”

Esther had beaten several illnesses in her later life, including bowel cancer, but had underlying conditions which left her more vulnerable to coronavirus, which she contracted in April. Two days after she was admitted to hospital, she died on April 25th, a week after her 96th birthday.

“The grief is hard to process,” Emily says. “Due to the virus, most of our family couldn’t attend the funeral. We really missed the ritualistic closure of an Irish wake and funeral. It is cathartic and it helps to understand the unimaginable – that the person you loved so much is no longer here.”

Once the restrictions are lifted, the family plan to celebrate Esther’s life with her six children, 16 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, her surviving siblings and the rest of her family and many friends.

Covid-19: Lives Lost

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