Ian Paul and Frances Walsh met back in the late 60s when their paths crossed as they took a short cut home after meeting their friends in the St John’s Park area of Waterford city. It would be fair to say they hit it off from day one, so much so that they eventually got married in St John’s Church on St Patrick’s Day, 1972.
Ian takes up the story, from the very beginning, when we spoke on Friday morning last: “Frances was born in Salford, Manchester but she came to Waterford with her parents Paddy and Frances Walsh when she was very young and the family lived in Ballytruckle. She has two brothers and four sisters. I was born in Pearse Park, but I was reared in St John’s Park Square along with my brother Alan and two sisters Ingrid and June.
“My father Andrew met my mother Kathe during World War II and although she was a German native, my mother settled very well in Waterford, and we really enjoyed living in St John’s Park because the neighbours were first class.”
Ian, who was employed with Waterford Crystal for all of his working life until the closure of the Kilbarry plant, something which upset him deeply, has certainly packed a lot into life, as indeed has his wife of 39 years.
“Our daughter Karen (37) and son Ricky (33) were born and needless to say they gave us a complete new outlook on life. They continue to do so and Frances and myself adore our four grandchildren. Karen, who is married to Paul Griffin, has two children, Adam and Luke, while Ricky also has two sons, Dylan and Josh. Luke was born with his heart the wrong way around and it was touch and go for a long time, but thankfully, thanks to the wonderful doctors who treated him he is now flying around the place. The kindness and help Karen and Paul received during that period from different people will never be forgotten by all of our family.”
Ian, who was educated in The Model School and The Bishop Foy School (Frances went to the Ursuline Convent) took up something which was to change their lives completely in the late 80s. “Frances had shown an interest in fostering for some time and after talking about it for some time she decided to foster the first child in 1989. She had my full support and it turned out to be the best thing we ever did. We managed to give a start in life to something in the region of 55 babies. The average period of time ranged between three to four months and the longest period of time was 13 months. Two of those children were disabled but Frances was determined to foster them and give them the love they needed.
“Unfortunately Frances was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1998 and as a result she had to stop fostering. The two of us never regretted a minute of fostering those children, and to be honest our hearts were broken every time they were taken away from us. Frances would jump on a bus and travel around the city just to try and get over the hurt of saying goodbye to them. I would go down to the shed in the back garden and potter around and try and do something to keep my mind off of letting them go. We would advise any couple to foster children if they have the time and the love of children in their hearts. In many ways those nine years were the best years of our lives.”
Ian and Frances reside in Chestnut Grove in Hillview and although foster children no longer occupy the homestead, their grandchildren are regular and welcome visitors as their love of children remains powerful in the Paul household.
As stated, Ian was one of the unfortunate people who was a victim of the ‘Glass’ closure and after working there as man and boy the decision to close the Waterford institution hurt him badly, and for the duration of the winddown he played a major role when it came to making the feelings of the workers known to the local and national press. “To this day I believe that it should never have happened the way it did. We were treated dreadfully by lots of different people, but life has to go on,” he says.
In the world of sport, Ian is best known as a referee on the local soccer scene. “I played for Johnville as a goalkeeper for many years [“Well you had to when you were from St John’s Park,” he laughs] and loved every minute of my time with the club.
“I spent the best part of nine years on the Southend United committee with your good self but in 1992 I decided to take up the whistle and got involved with the local society. I was assistant referee for a Munster Junior Cup final in Limerick and also when Waterford United played Leicester City at the RSC some years ago. I have also taken charge of many cup finals in Waterford and last season I must have become the oldest debutant in the League of Ireland when I was called up as a replacement 4th official for the Waterford United versus Athlone Town game at the RSC. I don’t think that record will ever be taken away from me.
“Unfortunately my knee packed up in November 2010 and an operation has not proved successful and right now I am waiting to get news of an operation to replace it. Despite the injury I continue to be the Honorary Secretary of the Waterford Branch of the IRS and Council Delegate to meetings around the country. The past number of months have been hectic because we in the Waterford Referees’ Society celebrated our 50th Anniversary. The amount of work that went into that was incredible, but thankfully everyone enjoyed the celebrations which included a mayoral reception, a special Mass for the deceased members and of course the gala night in the Tower Hotel.
“I must sincerely thank Councillor Mary Roche for her efforts in making everything go down so well. She was certainly a Mayor who made her mark on our city. We are not finished yet however. Very shortly we will be publishing a massive 50th Anniversary book, which is something special.”
Special is something that could be said about the Pauls’ approach to life. The happy couple may have had their ups and downs in terms of health problems in recent years, but they battle on regardless and the love of their family means everything to them. Their story hopefully will inspire other people to keep going when things threaten to get the better of you.