Ed Sheeran’s granny Nancy Sheeran remembered for ‘social conscience’ at Wexford funeral
She had an unexpected brush with fame when she became the inspiration behind grandson Ed Sheeran’s hit ‘Nancy Mulligan’ in 2017
A large crowd piled into St Patrick’s Church in Craanford on Wednesday to celebrate the life of Anne Sheeran, a woman who inspired kindness, social justice and the music of her grandson Ed Sheeran.
Anne Mary Sheeran (née Mulligan) of Craan, Craanford, who was known as Nancy, died on April 25 at Castle Gardens Nursing Home Enniscorthy at the age of 98.
She had an unexpected brush with fame when she became the inspiration behind grandson Ed Sheeran’s hit ‘Nancy Mulligan’ in 2017. An Irish folk song, it followed the story of William 'Bill' Sheeran falling in love with Anne and marrying her on the Wexford border.
While the song may have drawn worldwide attention to Anne, she was a legend in her own right in her local community long before its release.
At her funeral mass on Wednesday, a guard of honour was held by Courtown Golf Club and Gorey Boxing Club – two organisations that are what they are today thanks to Anne’s generosity and dedication.
In a eulogy, Anne’s son John – Ed Sheeran’s father – offered an insight into her life, highlighting the huge impact that she had on the Gorey community. In his words, her life was “so rich and fulfilled and touched so many”.
Anne was born on May 9, 1924 in Craan and it there that she spent the first 20 years of her life. She was a “country girl with a tomboy spirit” who enjoyed helping out on the family farm.
Anne attended Monaseed National School, where she received an excellent education in the standard subjects, but also in the harsh realities of the world. It was there that she gained an awareness of the poverty all around her, with many children walking barefoot for miles to get to school each day.
"For the rest of her life, her instinct lay with the underprivileged,” said John.
Mum said she and her fellow nurses developed serious reliance and defiance and a ‘just get the job done attitude’. It’s what she did for the rest of her life – got the job done
While a student at Loreto Secondary School, Anne wrote a poem about the cruelty of the nuns, an act that led her to be expelled. While she was allowed to sit her Leaving Cert, this experience “made her question authority”.
At 19, Anne became a carer for her brother Tom who was ill with tuberculosis. He died a year later and the experience of being a carer inspired Anne to become a nurse.
"After the U-boat threats had abated in the Irish Sea, Mum travelled to London in October 1944 to study nursing at Guy’s Hospital,” explained John.
"She recalled the challenges of looking after badly injured and burned fighter pilots and bomber crews who were undergoing plastic surgery, and she herself narrowly avoided injury or death from a devastating V-2 rocket explosion.
“Mum said she and her fellow nurses developed serious reliance and defiance and a ‘just get the job done attitude’. It’s what she did for the rest of her life – got the job done.”
Anne first met her husband Bill, a dental student, at a party and a friendship later blossomed into love. As John explained, not everyone was supportive of their relationship, and “the Northern Ireland Presbyterian side of Bill's family did their utmost to end the relationship”. The wedding was attended by only one family member – Anne’s twin sister Peggy.
Anne and Bill went on to grow their family while living in London, becoming parents to five girls and three boys.
"Mum joked that she originally wanted 11 so she could field a cricket team,” joked John.
When the children became teenagers, Anne wanted to become more independent and decided to go back to study.
She held a “strong social conscience” and a “desire to help others less fortunate than herself” and this led her to pursue a degree in Sociology, Criminology and Psychology, later becoming a probation officer.
“Many of her middle class friends thought she was completely mad but she was determined to have a new purpose and direction in life,” explained John, adding that she chose to work in the tough inner city in “an extremely challenging environment” with “high crime and rampant social deprivation”.
She travelled with the Lions International Convention to San Diego to lobby for financial support. Cleverly, she used President Kennedy’s Wexford family connection to bolster her case. She never took no for an answer
In 1983, Anne and Bill decided to move back to Craan where they enjoyed what John described as “the most peaceful and relaxing years of their lives in the family farmhouse”.
The family home became a retreat for the whole family, particularly Anne and Bill’s 23 grandchildren.
It didn’t take long for Anne to settle back in and find her place in Craan and the wider Gorey community. Anne joined Courtown Golf Club and played a strong role in its development. She was particularly passionate about ensuring that women were treated equally in all aspects of the club, said John.
Anne and Bill put huge effort into establishing Gorey Boxing Club, continued John, describing how they fundraised to buy a premises and organise tournaments. Anne served as Secretary of the Club for 25 years and later as Chairperson.
Anne also became a member of the Gorey District Lions Club, later becoming Secretary and then President.
"She travelled with the Lions International Convention to San Diego to lobby for financial support. Cleverly, she used President Kennedy’s Wexford family connection to bolster her case. She never took no for an answer,” said John.
Many other organisations felt the benefit of Anne’s kindness including North Wexford Hospice Homecare, St Aidan’s Daycare Centre, Gorey Food Appeal and Breast Cancer Research – all causes that she fundraised for.
Closer to home, Anne established Monaseed Community Development Group, establishing the “immensely popular Monaseed Easter Egg Hunt” and helping with the blessing of the animals. She even completed the Dublin City Marathon at the rip age of 81.
I am very sad that our son Edward is unable to be here today… I know he is comforted by the fact that he was able to spend some precious time alone with his grandma just a month ago
“Mum lived her life with a strong faith which sustained her through the most difficult times in her life, including the death of her beloved husband Bill and later, the death of her daughter Sally to breast cancer,” said John. “She passed on many of her important life values to us.”
While many of Nancy’s 23 grandchildren said readings at her funeral mass, John noted that Ed was unable to attend due to his ongoing copyright trial in New York.
“I am very sad that our son Edward is unable to be here today. He’s so upset that he cannot be present. He has to be thousands of miles away in a court in America defending his integrity.
"I know he is comforted by the fact that he was able to spend some precious time alone with his grandma just a month ago.”
It is particularly poignant that Dad’s ashes will now be in mums casket and they will be together for eternity, inseparable to the last
At the end of his eulogy, John thanked his brother Bill and wife Natasha for serving as Anne’s caregivers for many of her final years, saying that they helped to fulfil one of her wishes – to live at Craan for as long as possible.
Natasha later thanked all at Castle Gardens Nursing Home in Enniscorthy for the care that they provided to Anne in her final days.
“It is particularly poignant that Dad’s ashes will now be in mum’s casket and they will be together for eternity, inseparable to the last. As most of you know, mum will now be knocking on heaven’s door. One thing is for certain: she won’t be taking no for an answer,” concluded John.
Anne was the beloved wife of the late Bill and loving mother of Jim, Bill, Peter, Chris, John, MaryAnne, Bridget and the late Sally and sister of the late Thomas, Jim, May and Peggy. She will be deeply missed by her loving sons, daughters, grandchildren, great grandchildren, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, niece, nephews, relatives, friends and neighbours.
Following her funeral mass, Anne was laid to rest at St Patrick's Cemetery Craanford.
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