The sacred heart of Our Lord: images like this were potent symbols of faith and hope in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Especially for Catholic women who gained strength from their religion in times of great poverty and hardship.
Although we now know that Mary Helen Finn was born in Birmingham (previous conjecture being that she had herself been born in Ireland), even so, she is recalled as being very ‘Irish’ in character. Nance Bourne described something of this warm and big hearted matriarch:
“She loved nothing better than an Irish sing-song session in the house. When they came round they’d all be going with the old songs and Granny would stamp her feet and sing “Up the lane comes Molly” and the piano would be going. She loved her piano. It was rare in those days for someone to have a piano in the house, not many people had one. Oh, you knew they were Irish!”
Kath Robinson told me a little more about the endearing Mary Helen Finn:
“Every St Patrick’s Day, Granny would put on Radio Athlone and start dancing all around the room. She went to church regularly, I remember going up Crescent Hill towards St Peter’s with her and she would generally have to stop at Kelseys’ for a rest – she was a very big lady you see. Some Sundays she’d get a tram up to St Patrick’s to meet her sister Margaret and at Easter they’d all meet up at St Chads. She was a very religious lady – she had a big picture of the Sacred Heart over her bed – the picture had a lot of blood in it and one day our Nance went up the stairs and when she saw this big Sacred Heart she fell backwards down the stairs in shock”.
“She liked a drop of gin did our Granny, but she didn’t want Granddad to find out so she sucked humbugs to disguise it on her breath. One day she took this little holy font of hers up to the church to be blessed by the missionaries. But when she pulled it out of her pocket to hold it up to the altar, we noticed that it was all covered in sticky humbugs”.