Agnes Laffey has worked with six different Deans over a period of almost 50 years, but Belfast Cathedral’s sexton has finally set aside her mop and rubber gloves for a much deserved retirement.
Agnes, who is an octogenarian but won’t reveal her actual age, worked at Norwich Union Insurance before taking up the role of sexton – the person responsible for the upkeep of the building – at St Anne’s Cathedral around 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.
According to Agnes, who is now a proud grandmother and great grandmother, life at 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,” she explained. “We were like a big family.”
Agnes, who now lives in the Fortwilliam area of Belfast, 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.
Over almost half a century Agnes worked with six different Deans at St Anne’s – Cuthbert Peacocke (briefly), Sammy Crooks, Jack Shearer, Houston McKelvey, John Mann and now Stephen Forde.
On Tuesday, November 27, Dean Forde and staff at St Anne’s hosted a retirement party for Agnes in the library.
Describing it as “a momentous occasion”, Dean Forde said: “Agnes has been part of the life of Belfast Cathedral for decades. 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!”
Dean Forde presented a gift and a card signed by all the staff before helping Agnes cut her special retirement cake.
While she might have finished working at the cathedral, Agnes says she plans to return regularly to attend services as a parishioner.