Monday, September 10, 2012

Hanna Mordaunt: 'An angel bright, on earth too good to stay'

Hanna (left) and her sister Rita in the Spring of 1949,
just a few months before her death.
When I was growing up I was always struck by the fact that my mother had very few close friends. In particular I wondered why Mom had no female friend to whom she was especially close, and in whom she could confide her hopes and dreams, her troubles and doubts. Over time I discovered there had been a very close friend in Ireland, Hanna Mordaunt, a young woman lost to my mother, and to her own family, at a time when a young woman should be going to dances, and strolling along on the arm of a favored young man.

They say that when someone experiences the tragic loss of a very close friend, he or she may be more cautious, whether consciously or subconsciously, about once again forming those very deep bonds which define true friendship. In her childhood and youth, too often my mother stood by the bedside of someone she loved, watching the light of life disappear, knowing that once again she was left behind. From my own experience of such loss, I can now understand my mother's tendency to keep people at arm's length.

The loss of Hanna had a profound effect on my mother. Although Mom rarely spoke of her friend, she did tell me the story of Hanna dying at Lourdes, France. Within the collection of photographs and ephemera which my mother kept, there are brief glimpses of this friend from long ago.

In the summer of 1928, Hanna Mordaunt was born into a family which would grow to include at least two other daughters. She grew up on Cambridge Street in Ringsend, Dublin. Her home was over a bridge, and just a few blocks away, from the home in which my mother lived on Gordon Street. Hanna was three years older than my mom, so I do not know if they knew each at school, or if they met after leaving school.

As the story goes, Hanna was a deeply religious young woman. In 1949 she went to Lourdes on a pilgrimage because she was critically ill. Hanna did not expect to be cured, but wanted to receive a blessing with the holy waters, and wanted to pray for the strength to accept her illness. In the fullness of her faith, Hanna believed the journey would make her feel more at ease with her impending passage into the next world.

Those who travelled to Lourdes with Hanna told of an introspective young woman who seemed content, even happy. They said that on Hanna's last day many persons who were bathed in the waters of the holy grotto said the water felt icy cold; however, when Hanna's turn came, she remarked that the water felt as warm as bath water. Hanna died, they said, within minutes of being removed from the waters. It was 13 August 1949, and Hanna Mordaunt was only twenty-one years old.

Back in Ireland, my mother Mary, then a young woman of eighteen years, waited to receive word from her dear friend, a letter or a postcard, but none ever came. Mom said she did not recall knowing her friend was dying, but if she did know, she did not believe it would come to pass. Either way Mary never again set eyes on her friend Hanna.

A few years later Mom's sister Kathleen travelled to Lourdes. Kate sent her sister Mary a postcard of the Grotto at Lourdes noting, 'You were all remembered here'. Mom recalled feeling pleased by the simple yet stark beauty of the grotto, and said it had been her hope that one day she too would travel to Lourdes to remember Hanna, but a trip to Lourdes never came to pass.

The In Memoriam Card commemorating the death of Hanna Mordaunt
One of the right hand paragraphs reads:
'God saw in her an angel bright
On earth too good to stay,
He called her to His home above
And Hanna passed away'.
The postcard from the Grotto at Lourdes, France.

Click on images to view larger versions.


  1. A sad story, but also inspiring as to the strong bindings of friendship. Thank you, Jennifer.

    1. Hello Crissouli,

      Thank you for your comments. As always, they are very much appreciated.


  2. So sad, but a remarkable story! I really enjoyed reading it.


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