She has worked with five (and a bit) Deans over a period of almost 50 years, but Belfast Cathedral sexton Agnes Laffey has finally set aside her mop and Marigolds for a much deserved retirement.
Agnes worked at Norwich Union Insurance before taking up the role of sexton at St Anne’s Cathedral around about 1970, just as Dean Cuthbert Peacocke was leaving and Dean Sammy Crooks was moving into the Deanery.
Agnes married her late husband James in the Cathedral in October 1952. James served in the Army and for eight years Agnes travelled with him wherever he was based.
They settled in Newtownabbey, and had two daughters, Gail, and the late Allison. Agnes is now a proud grandmother and great grandmother.
Life in St Anne’s was a little more sedate in those early days as sexton. “There were a lot less people working in the Cathedral then,” said Agnes. “We were like a big family.”
Agnes said it is because of her passion for St Anne’s that she continued to work long after many others may have decided to sit back and take it easy.
“I love it. I love everything about it. I love the crowds of people and every Dean that I have met,” she said.
Agnes, now living in the Fortwilliam area, will return regularly to the Cathedral to attend services as a parishioner.
On Tuesday November 27, Dean Stephen Forde and staff at St Anne’s hosted a retirement party for Agnes in the library. Dean Forde said it was a ‘momentous occasion.’
“Agnes has been part of the life of Belfast Cathedral for decades, working with Dean Sammy Crooks, Dean Jack Shearer, Dean Houston McKelvey, Dean John Mann and myself,” he said. (At this point Agnes interjected to point out that she had also worked briefly with Dean Peacocke so it was ‘five and a bit Deans!’)
“Today we want to thank you for everything that you have done for all the people you have seen through this place, for your friendly smile, your happy welcome, and for making sure the rest of us were in the right place at the right time, for all you have organised and for all the cups of tea!” the Dean added.
Dean Forde presented a gift and a card signed by all the staff before helping Agnes and Gail cut a special retirement cake.