When Lucy O’Flaherty took up shoemaking she didn’t know it was part of her heritage

When Lucy O’Flaherty took up shoemaking as a hobby she had no idea she came from a long line of such craftspeople.

Ms O’Flaherty is the chief executive officer of Glenview Community Services, an aged care provider, and is behind the development of a self-contained village for people with dementia.

She was born in London in 1971, and immediately adopted.

“I was actually the last private adoption in the UK, according to my parents, which means that had I been born on time [later] … that private adoption scheme would have closed and I would have gone into an orphanage,” she said.

“By the grace of God I was born at the right time in the right place.”

Lucy O’Flaherty was the last child to be privately adopted in the UK.(Supplied: Lucy O’Flaherty)

Ms O’Flaherty said while she had a “fabulous” childhood, she did struggle with identity.

“I don’t look anything like my family,” she said.

As an adult she was able to connect with her birth mother in Ireland.

She discovered that her birth parents had been young, Irish Catholics who were unwed.

A young woman stands in a camp ground
Lucy O’Flaherty says she struggled with her identity growing up.(Supplied)

“I was born in June, my birth parents actually got married in December, then four and a half years later had my birth brother, my full brother,” she said.

“Finally, I actually looked like someone.

“Looking at pictures of my birth mother and birth father — spitting image — I could absolutely see where I came from, so it’s been an interesting journey.”

Two women and two men sit in a park.
Lucy O’Flaherty says she was struck by the strong family resemblance with her family.(Supplied)

Her journey became even more interesting when she took up shoemaking as a hobby six years ago.

“I’ve always been attracted to shoes — I’ve got a massive shoe collection — wanted to learn how to make them, went and did a shoemaking course. Loved it.”

A woman stands arm in arm with two men in a car park
Lucy O’Flaherty has been able to meet up with her brother and half brother.(Supplied)

The next time she visited her birth mother in Ireland she told her about her new passion for shoemaking, and made an astonishing discovery.

“She was looking at me — and she said ‘your grandfather and your great grandfather were both cordwainers’ — which is a shoemaker.”

The house her birth mother lives in was once the family shoemaking shop.

“She said ‘you come from a long line of people who make shoes’,” Ms O’Flaherty said.

“I was raised totally separately, nothing to do with that side of the family for the first 25 years of my life, yet the love and the passion for making shoes is still there, it’s bizarre.”

Two people stand in front of a horse and cart outside an old, sandstone shoe shop. The photo is in black and white.
Lucy O’Flaherty’s biological mother’s home in Ireland used to house the family shoemaking business.(Supplied)

Ms O’Flaherty said shoemaking was an escape from the sometimes difficult and stressful nature of running an aged care facility.

Then COVID-19 hit the state in March, bringing fear and uncertainty.

Restricting family visits to residents has been particularly difficult, she said, adding she was in awe of her facility’s “fantastic” staff, who went to incredible lengths to care for their residents.

“They do it in spite of the pay rate, they do it because they give a shit, they do it because they care, they do it because they get so much out of this and they know the value of what they do,” she said.

The pandemic has also taken a personal toll on Ms O’Flaherty.

A photograph of a man and woman in a photoframe on a coffee table, with sea shells in the foreground.
Lucy O’Flaherty has been separated from her adoptive parents in the UK due to COVID.(ABC News: Craig Heerey)

She has lost two uncles to the virus — one in Yugoslavia and one in France — and she’s worried about her 82-year-old adopted mother in the UK, who is living with advanced dementia.

“It’s devastating that I can’t go back, even if I wanted to, I can’t go back to the UK because of COVID but at least I know I can talk to her on the phone, I can talk to my father, I can talk to my brother. She’s got great support,” she said.

“It makes what I do here even more important.

A woman wearing glasses and a suit stands in a room with her hands crossed
Ms O’Flaherty has been involved in setting up a ground-breaking dementia village.(ABC News: Craig Heerey)

Ms O’Flaherty has been part of developing Australia’s first village for people living with dementia.

Korongee, near Hobart, has its own hairdressing salon, gym, GP clinic, grocery store, cafe and cinema.

“It’s incredibly exciting, I am incredibly proud of it,” she said.

“It’s a long way to go yet but we’re certainly incredibly excited about what it is doing against what we thought it might do.”

Handmade shoes lined up on a wall
Ms O’Flaherty says making shoes helps to “repair her soul”.(ABC News: Craig Heerey)

Every day Lucy O’Flaherty takes a walk around the Glenview Aged Care facility at Glenorchy so she can talk with the residents.

“You can’t ever really explain how much you get from being someone’s smile, being part of having a joke with someone, holding their hand, just being present with someone and being part of their last months or last moments,” she said.

“It’s incredibly powerful and I get out of this industry way more than I am given. It’s an incredibly rewarding career.”

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