Moira Stephanski’s homely apartment in Carnhill has been transformed into a haven of pretty flowers and personal treasures. When she directs people to her home she just tells them to look out for the garden with the bows on the trees.
It’s instantly recognisable from the other less manicured gardens in the area and if ever a home has taken on the personality of its owner, then this is the one. Moira is 75 in numbers but about 50 years younger in spirit making her wonderfully endearing and instantly engaging with her stories of being a performer in a Derry long gone.
Originally from the High Street area of Creggan, Moira was the only daughter of well known tenor John Ferguson. Her mother Margaret was one of the original factory girls and hard working and dedicated parents meant - she says - that she never wanted for anything.
Music was always a priority in the Ferguson family for Moira and her three brothers and as a child she would eagerly make the short journey from St Eugene’s Primary School to the home of renowned Derry music teacher Edward Henry O’Donnell where she was taught the piano and had music coaching and voice training. While she moved onto a number of jobs locally Moira was always a performer at heart and entertained appreciative crowds in well known city centre bars in the sixties.
She was a regular in the Diamond Bar in Butcher Street and also played the piano and sang in Pat’s Bar in the same area. The local beauty even travelled as far as Salthill in Galway where crowds soaked up her singing talents as they enjoyed their holidays.
“Music was so so important to us as a family because of my father. He was one of the best tenors ever to come out of the city and he gave us that same passion. I really enjoyed that life. It was just amazing singing the old songs and dancing with Frankie Roddy in the Corinthian Ballroom.
“I enjoyed Derry and Galway and even did a tour of the working men’s clubs in Liverpool in 1965,” she says.
“I just had a great time. I enjoyed it all so much and I still do.”
In 1966 Moira met New Yorker Bob Stephanski who was stationed in Derry with the American Navy. The pair married in 1967 and from then, as the American flags in her sitting room show, Moira’s life was to change forever.
She relocated to Lockport in Upstate New York and set up home there. It was a long way from High Park but the young Moira had no difficulty making friends. She also had no difficulty finding work and was employed by the famous General Motors for a number of years and also worked for the food production company Del Monte. She spent her latter years in the States working as a nurse’s aid as well as bringing up her four children.
“A dollar was a dollar and I did what I could,” she recalls. “My family are still in America and I go out there regularly, I’m so proud of all of them and their achievements. I know I was a long way from Derry but no matter where you go life is what you make it and I just had to build my own life.”
Moira came back to Derry every two years .
In 1992 when she came back after her marriage ended in America, Moira met the love of her life William Norris while she was selling tickets at a dance in Creggan. The perfectly matched pair have been together ever since and are regular participants of Derry’s ballroom dancing scene.
“I still love singing and dancing and all that,” beams Moira.
“I love fashion and hair and makeup and while I’m 75 I certainly don’t feel it.”
She still refers to America as “home” after spending so many years there but says she’s lucky she can have two places to lay down her roots.
“I call both places home,” she adds.
“I have my big American Christmas here in my apartment every year and I also enjoy the social scene in Derry. I think it’s such a shame though that the young people don’t know how to dance anymore. They really don’t and that’s sad. We just love ballroom dancing and we do it every week.
“I won’t be hanging up my dancing shoes any time soon,” she adds.
If she’s not dancing and singing in Derry where she recently gave an impromptu performance at the Belfray Country Inn on the outskirts of the city, Moira is living it up in sunnier climes in her favourite holiday destination Tenerife. She also makes time to make the journey back to America to spend time with her family once a year.
With perfect skin and - as she proudly proclaims - all her own teeth, Moira says the secret to eternal youth is pride in appearance and plenty of travel and shopping.
“I love buying products for my skin and dressing well everyday,” she says. “There’s no other secret really apart from really just enjoying myself. That’s something I’d recommend to everyone,” she smiles.