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Bridie McGowan, helping hand among founders of the Irish Elderly Advice Network

Irish president thanked group for attempts to tackle poverty and isolation

04 June, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Bridie with husband Connor McGowan.‘Her work allowed vulnerable Irish citizens a voice in their society’

WHEN three Irishmen were found dead in their bedsits in the early 1990s, it highlighted an awful trend – and it inspired Bridie McGowan to join forces with friends and set up the Irish Elderly Advice Network.

Twenty-five years later, it is still doing vital work helping members of the Irish diaspora in London. Bridie, who has died aged 85, was born in Blackwater, County Kerry. Her parents worked on a farm, where she lived with her sister, Maurie.

In 1952, Bridie left Ireland for London to work in the NHS as a nurse. She settled in Camden – buying a home in Pratt Street in the late 50s – and would live in the area for the rest of her live. After the discovery of the three elderly Irishmen who died alone – their bodies were not found for some time – Bridie was moved to help.

The Irish Elderly Advice Network was set up to fight poverty and isolation and help people find decent social housing.

As Bridie and fellow campaigner Margaret Byrne knew, Camden had many older single Irishmen who had spent a lifetime working in London, had lost contact with family back home and had lived in bedsits for much of their life. Bridie was aware that many faced the choice of an evening in a pub or alone in a single room. She was aware of the isolation they could feel.

Her campaigning focused on offering practical advice and lobbying Camden Council, but also battling what she saw as a lack of help from the Irish government. She knew many Irishmen had sent money home each week to help their families, but believed this was never fully appreciated by the government. She also campaigned against the slum accommodation many landlords offered at high rents and fought to ensure the council fulfilled its duties.

Bridie was widowed twice. Her first husband, Polish watchmaker Konstantin Krzywiec, died in 1963. She then married Mich Eagar, who died in 1977.

Bridie had five children, Michael, Anna, Ian, Mark and Lucy. She left nursing to look after them, although later worked at the DHSS. In 1982, she married Connor McGowan and they spent many happy years together. She loved walking on Parliament Hill and travelled farther afield, visiting Europe and South Africa, always interested in a country’s culture rather than lying on a beach. Her work for older Irish people did not go unnoticed.

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins wrote to her in 2013 thanking her for her efforts. The letter read: “Her work has allowed vulnerable Irish citizens a voice in their society and the right to age with dignity and respect. I thank Bridie for holding out a hand of friendship to the many members of our wider Irish family who have struggled with loneliness, poverty and a great sense of isolation after many years living and working away from home.”

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