Michael Kelly stands by a graveside in Fahan’s Church of Ireland graveyard and tenderly places flowers upon it.
He has never met the woman who rests there, but has celebrated and honoured her for many years.
Michael has travelled from his home of Liverpool to Fahan in order visit the grave of Agnes Jones and the memorial to her, located in the nearby St. Mura’s Church of Ireland.
The pioneering nurse, who died at just 36-years-old in 1868, is venerated in Liverpool, due to her tireless work to improve conditions in workhouses, which before her were “just places to die.”
Born in 1832, she lived for a time in Fahan House, before enrolling in 1862 in St. Thomas’s Hospital in Liverpool after making contact with Florence Nightingale. Agnes Jones was a Nightingale nurse and in 1865, on invitation from William Rathbone, she took up the post of Lady Superintendent in Brownlow Hill, one of the largest workhouse infirmaries in the country. She worked tirelessly to improve conditions, but sadly contracted typhus from a patient and passed away.
Michael tells the ‘Journal’ how he was fascinated by the legacy of Agnes Jones to the people of his city.
A former ship’s carpenter, Michael had a strong interest in writing and penned a piece on Agnes Jones for the ‘Ireland’s Own’ magazine in the early 90s.
Through this, he was contacted by the late Mary Devlin and Margaret McGrath.
The local duo had read the article and went looking for Agnes Jones’ grave. When they found it, the grave had become overgrown.
“They got down on their hands and knees and cleaned it up,” said Michael.
“They cleaned the railings and around the tomb, which had become rusted. They planted spring bulbs, which come up every year and later erected a sign pointing to the grave. The two of them were a pair of angels. They, like Agnes herself, were amazing women.”
Following the ‘Ireland’s Own’ piece, Michael went on to write two books, ‘Liverpool’s Irish Connection’ and ‘Mothers of the City - 20 outstanding Liverpool women.’ Agnes Jones features in both.
‘Agnes is a woman that must be celebrated,” says Michael.
“When she came to Liverpool, the workhouse itself was a town within a town, with 4-500 imates. There was fighting every night and she turned it around. She turned the infirmary into a hospital and the tragedy was, just three and a half years later, she passed away.”
Her contribution to the people of Liverpool was never forgotten, and there are many commemorations to her in the city.
Michael tells: “Agnes Jones is one of the Ladies of the Staircase in the Lady Chapel at Liverpool Cathedral. Interestingly, its beside another woman who gave Liverpool a great service - Kitty Wilkinson, from Derry.
“There is also an Agnes Jones wing at the women’s hospital in Liverpool and their students accommodation is named the Agnes Jones wing.”
Michael recently met with a great niece of Agnes and arranged for the Walker Art Gallery to open their oratory, which houses a monument dedicated to her.
“It’s very rarely opened, so she was delighted,” he said.
Michael himself was also delighted to visit the memorial in Fahan, during which he was accompanied by two friends and “wonderful young men,” Connor Richmond and Matthew Harrison.
The young men recently completed their degrees in Film Production. As part of their course, they produced a film on the life of Kitty Wilkinson. Knowing Michael had written about her, they contacted him to undertake the film’s narration.
Through Michael, Connor and Matthew then became more familiar with the life of Agnes Jones and accompanied him on his visit to Fahan over the weekend.
It was not Michael’s first trip, as he had visited before with the late Canom Sam Barton and also with Margaret and Mary.
But he says every trip is extremely special and on Friday, he was met at the church by Anne Moore and her daughter Carole McAuley.
On each visit, Michael lays flowers on Agnes Jones’ grave and was most pleased to find there were others upon it last Friday. These were brought by a great nephew of Agnes Jones, who visited Fahan recently.
Michael marvels at the “fantastic” memorial in Fahan, on which there are words written by Reverend William Alexander, the Bishop of Derry and primate of Raphoe, to which he was consecrated in 1867. William Alexander is also known as an eloquent preacher and the author of theological works and verse. His wife was Cecil Alexander, a noted hymn writer and poet. Her works include the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful.’ Both lived in Fahan rectory.
Michael, whose Irish roots come from both his parents - the Kellys, from Cork and the Doyles, from Co. Down - is grateful that he can visit Agnes Jones’ final resting place and honour her.
“When you come here once, you will always come back,” he says. Agnes Jones was an outstanding woman. She lived right here in Fahan, where she worshipped in the church and probably stood in this graveyard. Then she went on to do so much for the people of Liverpool. She left a wonderful legacy and we owe her so much.”