‘Ballymoney will 
never be the same again’ - S Alex Blair

Mrs Holmes receiving her OBE at Buckingham Palace in 1978 with her son James and husband Harold.

Mrs Holmes receiving her OBE at Buckingham Palace in 1978 with her son James and husband Harold.

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Ballymoney historian S Alex Blair gave an address at the funeral service of Mrs Mollie Holmes in St Patrick’s Parish Church in Ballymoney on Friday.

“Ballymoney will never be the same again.”

Mr Blair said: “How often have I heard that said in the streets of this town since the death of Mrs Millie Holmes was announced on Tuesday morning.

“She was the personification of Ballymoney - a place she loved and served faithfully for so long, a place which today is so aware of the irreplacable gap her death creates and a place in mourning today for one so highly respected and so greatly loved.

“She died as she wanted - peacefully and serenely -in her own home and those she loved best will miss her most. To all the family circle we extend our sympathy but most especially to her brother Archie and to her son James.

“James has devoted himself unstintingly to the care of his mother - no one could have had a better or more attentive son. For him the parting is the hardest but he has the comfort that he did everything possible for his mother and he has no regrets today. He had some special people who helped him and he will be forever grateful to them for their support and assistance.

Mary Jane Hart, known to all as Mollie, was born at Coolbreene Farm, by the banks of the Bann, on 24th August 1914 - just as the First World War was starting. It was a different world but a comfortable world at Coolbreene - far from the horror of battle.

“Mollie had an idyllic childhood - the centre of a loving family - father James Donaghy Hart, mother the former Sarah Getty of Coldagh and two brothers - John who bebcame a doctor and practiced inLondonderry and Archie, happily still with us - and still in the shop in Main Street.

After schooldays at Ballygan, Ballymoney Model and Coleraine Tech, Mollie decided to stay at home and keep her mother. That was not such a bad idea for Harold Holmes came visiting, love flourished and marriage followed on 3rd August 1943. The birth of James brought great joy and Mollie was happy as wife and mother in her lovely home at ‘Lismoyne’.

But things changed.

A visit from Sir Arthur Algeo, her brother--in-law and George Ashe, chairman of Ballymoney Urban District Council, produced the change.

They told her they wanted her to stand in the Council elections and were hoping to nominate her. It was a shock, but having consulted her husband, she reluctantly agreed. She was elected as an Independent - with no party affiliations - and she cherished her independence on the council where she served for the next 30 years (1955-1985).

She was Mayor for eight years and honoured by being given the Freedom of the Borough of Ballymoney in 1986.

What a record of public service to the people of this town and surrounding community - but that’s only a part of it. There’s so much more.

“Let me first list some of the other work she undertook and the position she held:

Member of the Antrim Co Welfare Committee, later the NI Health and Social Services Board; founder of Ballymoney Evergreen Club for senior citizens and its President for 32 years; honoured by the Queen with the award of Officer of the Order of the British Empire 1977; member of the Board of Governors of five schools and chairman of Lislagan Board and for 20 years chairman of the Board of Governors of Ballymoney High School.; chairman of Ballymoney and District Road Safety Committee from its foundation to 2004; Vice President of the North Antrim Agricultural Association and a most generous and enthusiastic supporter of Ballymoney Agricultural Show (she told me the first show she attended, she went with her father on his pony an trap, aged 6); President of the Women’s Section of the Royal British Legion and Poppy Organiser for 27 years.

instigator of the annual band parade in the town for Cancer Research and, for her work, made an Honorary Fellow of Cancer Research in 2003; Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

“And I could go on - what a life we celebrate and bhonour today.

Yet despite all her work, her celebrity status and her amazing achievements, she remained at heart a countrywoman with simple tastes who loved the place which moulded her and cherished the friendships and goodness of local folk.

When she asked me to give this address she said “You’ll say a wee word about me, Alex - but keep it short” and then she added “Put on your gown and hood” and then came the throw away line...”for it might be a big occasion”!!

So I dressed as best I could and I cherish every remembrance of Mollie. I wrote her biography and I attended many of her events - not least those famous birthday parties in the Lodge Hotel.

“We have all so many happy memories of Mollie.

I can see her, apron on, in the kitchen at Lismoyle, baking delicious bread - and her Christmas cake was a special treat!

I can see her riding round the Show Field with the late Rev WJ Watson in his buggy and enjoying every minute of it.

I can see her, after a big event, getting a kiss from Lord Grey, last Governor of Northern Ireland, and the he turned to me and said “I never kissed a Mayor before!”

I can see her, surrounded by her neighbours from the police station, giving them tea and buns and a little respite from a stressful day. They were enjoying the break and she was enjoying the attention of those handsome young constables - her special boys.

And she had her special girls too. They even went out on adventures in the police car - but I am not supposed of know of such things!

“I can see her dancing round the floor with her Evergreens and sitting with them, helping them to remember the words of songs they wanted to sing. She loved them and they loved her even more.

These are just a few little vignettes to give you a flavour of a life so full and memories so precious to cherish for years to come.

Now we must say our farewells. And we do so in gratitude - gratitude to God for a life so well lived, so worthwhile and so enriching to us all.

Mollie lifted us all and made us feel good. What a singularly special individual we have had the opportunity to have known.

We salute her memory today and we know we shall not see her like again.”