Obituary - Abel Irving

19th February 2010 at 00:00

Abel Irving, who has died aged 93, was made an MBE for her services to education.

As a teacher at Greenock High in the 1950s and 1960s, she was a familiar and formidable sight, clad in navy jumper and heavy tweed skirt, which seemed thicker than most folk's carpets. Her hallmark, however, was her Lisle stockings: bullet-proof and brown.

Her love of Shakespeare was evident and her knowledge of his works encyclopaedic. She charmed us with Lamb, Milton, Keats and Burns, but always she spoke of Shakespeare and his plays, for she was a lover of drama and language and, to her, he was the master of both.

Mabel had been born in Greenock just as the First World War was at its height. She attended Clune Park Primary, Greenock Academy and Glasgow University. A star student, her life was jolted when her father died suddenly and Mabel felt she must become the breadwinner. She left university life to go to Jordanhill to become a teacher.

One of the lecturers, a Mr Campbell, with amazing foresight, told her: "Your name will travel where your feet won't take you." Mabel's poetry has, indeed, done just that for, as a bard of Greenock Burns Club, her annual poem reached every corner of the globe.

There are many legacies of Mabel Irving, and one was the formation of an after-school drama club at Greenock High. It was ahead of its time and produced many fine actors: Bill Bryden, Richard Wilson and Mary Riggans are just three who achieved great prominence on stage and television.

Although Mabel's passion was for Shakespeare's plays, it was in Burns's poetry and the Doric that she derived her most joyous satisfaction.

Speaking, writing and teaching on the Ayrshire bard was to become the most dominant feature of her later life. She was recognised by the Burns Federation and given honorary membership.

She was the first woman member of Greenock Burns Club and, having cracked that particular egg, became its first woman president.

These and so much more are the memories of one of Mabel's boys, but I know that there are many whose memories are of her time at Finnart School, where she was just as proud of her "girls" as she was of her high school "boys". There are those, too, who remember her from Ladyburn School, Greenock, or her last teaching years in Grove Park Secondary.

In her final years, Mabel's little room in Bagatelle Nursing Home in Greenock was her final classroom. In it, she held court, discussed words and verses, and taught, for to the very end she was a teacher. The icing on the cake was unquestionably the award of an MBE in June 2008.

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