At just six months, Harry Ballance isn’t on his feet yet, but on September 16 he’ll be heading to Stormont with his mum Joy and granny Sally Dorman to honour his great granny Ethel Dorman at Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk.
Harry, Joy and Sally will be joining more than 100,000 people across Northern Ireland, England and Wales who will be taking part in an Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk this autumn, with Alzheimer’s Society calling on people across Northern Ireland to unite against dementia by signing up for Alzheimer’s Society’s Belfast Memory Walk to be held at Stormont on Saturday, 16 September 2017.
Harry shared a special bond with Ethel, who died in July, less than two years after being diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies, a form of dementia that shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Unable to speak or communicate since Christmas, Ethel was able to say his name ‘Harry’ when she met him in her nursing home a few days after he was born. Harry would snuggle with his great granny in bed, often on a blanket she crocheted before the Lewy Body dementia took away the use of her hands.
Raised on the family farm at Castlereagh, Ethel McDowell married John Dorman in 1952 and moved to his family farm on the Back Road at Drumbo, where she lived until a few years before she passed away, helping to raise Joy and her siblings as well as caring for the hundred-strong dairy herd.
“Granny was a dedicated farmer’s wife all her life, and she continued to look after the farm after her husband passed away,” Joy said. Even at the age of 75 she would be out milking the cows, dressed impeccably (always in a skirt, never trousers) and with her beads on, and nothing would come between her and the milking at 5pm.
Ethel also took charge of rearing turkeys for Christmas. “That was Granny’s forte,” said Sally. “She loved that time of the year. She loved to see people coming and to have a bit of craic with them.
“There were 300-700 turkeys, and they were all hand plucked at Christmas time,” said Joy. “Granny was a very short woman, and obviously the turkeys were hung up by their feet, she would have got one out and put it across her knee so she could still pluck it so that she could reach it. My brother always said that for a wee woman she was as strong and hard working as any man. Even at hay time, you’d have put her up at the top of the trailer with all the bales of hay and straw and Granny would have stacked them and thrown them off herself, she was very, very hardy,” she said.
Sally said Ethel’s work ethic was evident early on. She didn’t miss one day of primary school, even one winter day carrying her brother Harry on her back through the snow despite her siblings turning home. As was typical for farming families, she attended school until she was 14, and although the principal of the school wanted her to go on to college to be a teacher, her father said no, she was needed in the business. “Her father would have trusted her to have kept the books and the accounts and everything for the milk sales, and she lodged the money in the bank,” Sally said.
“Even up until two years ago she still could have told you who lived in every house in the Castlereagh Rd and how many bottles of milk they got every day and what their order was, and they went out on the horse and cart and delivered everything,” Joy added.
“From when we were born, Granny was always here. We never had a babysitter because Granny was here. When Mum went back to work part time, Granny was the person who looked after us. She showed my brother how to do things on the farm. From when I was little she would have got me to go out and do things, feed the calves, we used to go blackberry picking. Granny never learned how to drive so she just walked everywhere or got the bus and we just went everywhere with her, whatever she was doing,” Joy said.
Joy, who works in the health service as a dietician, began to suspect her grandmother had signs of Lewy Body Dementia when her hands started to contort, and she was diagnosed with the condition two years ago. While Ethel’s mind stayed sharp, she lost the use of her hands, her ability to communicate and eventually was unable to swallow.
“She really missed the use of her hands because she would have crocheted. She crocheted baby blankets and she got me to keep the last ones that she did. ‘Keep them for our ones,’ she said, meaning if any more babies arrive give them out,” Sally said.
“Her eyesight deteriorated too. She used to get the News Letter on a Saturday for the Farming Life, she had to have that on a Saturday, but then when her eyesight went she wasn’t able to read it and that annoyed her.” But even unable to see, she kept up with the farming news as her brother Harry would have read her the Farming Life aloud.
“With her speech, she was still able to say bits and pieces, short sentences and she would have been able to have a conversation and you knew what she was asking you until about Christmas time and then from Christmas time she had no speech at all until when Harry was born,” Joy said.
Harry was born on February 11, at the same time Ethel became very ill and was expected to live only hours. On her way home from hospital, Joy went straight to Ethel’s Carryduff nursing home with Harry. “When we brought Harry through the door she said ‘Harry’,” Joy said.
“We will be doing Memory Walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society because we really just want to give something back. It’s an opportunity to remember Granny – I want her memory to live on,” she said.
Bernadine McCrory, Alzheimer’s Society Northern Ireland Director, said: “Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer. We are calling on family, friends – and furry four-legged supporters – to unite against dementia this autumn. Dementia devastates lives. Walk with us at Memory Walk and dementia won’t win. Every pound raised will help Alzheimer’s Society provide information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by dementia. Alzheimer’s Society is urgently calling on people to register now at memorywalk.org.uk and unite against dementia,” Bernadine said.
Anyone who wishes to sponsor Joy and Harry at can do so at http://www.justgiving.com/mw237765