Grieving family stumble upon painting of beloved mother

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A Donaghmore family, who lost their mother to cancer, has organised a walk in the Mournes with some 200 volunteers in aid of the charity Hospice.

Husband Aidan and children Sean, Liam, Brian and Marie were left devastated after Ethna McMahon passed away in November at the age of 61.

Born Ethna Mary Loughran in 1954 - and affectionately known as ‘Skinny’, her love of music filled her life to the brim. A trained music teacher, she played piano-keyed accordion, accompanied on fiddle by her younger sister Patricia, in The Loughran Sisters group, appearing regularly at concerts, guest teas and charity events.

They achieved Ulster and All-Ireland success and recorded their first LP, promoting the album on live radio, TV and stage.

Ethna’s piano, her music sheets and her family’s favourite photographs of her smiling face now adorn the sitting room at their Annaghbeg home

A new painting has been added to the space above her piano, depicting Ethna in her 20s playing her beloved accordion at what the family think was Benburb Sunday.

The family discovered the painting by Armagh artist Lorcan Vallely quite by accident after it was hung in an art gallery in Belfast.

A friend spotted it after Ethna passed away and rang the family about the exciting discovery.

Aidan felt Ethna’s spirit was guiding them on the day they hunted down the artist and negotiated a price for the painting, which is titled ‘The dancer and the musician’.

It’s now their most treasured possession.

“It was pure chance we got our hands on it”, said Aidan, a popular former teacher at St Patrick’s Academy. “Another couple of days and it might have been sold and gone forever. We recognised Ethna instantly, and her red accordion.

“It’s wonderful to walk into the room and see her playing her accordion with her distinctive style, at the height of her talent. The painting captures her essence and always makes me smile.

“I’ve told my children they can fight over it when I’m gone.”

Vallely, who has exhibited his work internationally, based the acrylic and charcoal painting on a photograph that had caught his eye in an old newspaper. He had no idea who the two young women were.

So touched was he by the family’s delight at tracking down the picture that he has agreed to donate one of his works to Hospice.

“I feel blessed to have spent more than forty years as Ethna’s husband”, said Aidan.

“We had a wonderful life together. It feels so fitting to have found this painting of her. Of course, if Ethna was alive, she would have simply said: “Didn’t I always tell you I was an oil painting.”

Before losing her battle against cancer, Ethna had spent a brief while in the Newry Hospice and Aidan was full of praise for the wonderful work of the staff there.

“That’s why we decided to do the fundraising, to show our support for the Hospice and its staff, who showed Ethna such great care.

“We have enough volunteers for the walk, and if people would like to support us and the charity they should go to our Just Giving page.

The family have already raised £2,000 through the Just Giving website.

The walk, which will also commemorate the life of Teresa Caffery, who recently passed away due to cancer, will begin at the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, on June 4 at 9.30am.

Donations to Hospice can be made by logging onto www.justgiving.com/mullan-mcmahon.