Burnley’s ‘Mad Mary’ dies at 69

Familiar face: Mary and her daughter Tracey
Familiar face: Mary and her daughter Tracey

The daughter of ‘Mad Mary’ has started up a project in Burnley to help similar vulnerable adults like her mum.

Mary died, aged 69, at the end of last month and Tracey McMahon has paid tribute to her mum who was well-known around Burnley centre.

“My mother was known as Irish or Mad Mary,” said Tracey, who returned to Burnley in 2011 after seeing photos of her mum on Facebook.

“She was something of a legend in Burnley - she was homeless, had a lot of white hair and shouted a lot.

“A lot of people in Burnley helped her - and I want to thank them - but some people did also take advantage of her.

“She died in sheltered accomodation as she said all she ever wanted was ‘A bed, fire and a TV with my own front door key.’”

Mary came over to Burnley from Ireland in 1964 when she was around 19 to follow her elder brother.

“She worked at Lucas and met my father,” said Tracey, who has a brother Paul. “I remember her Irish accent and saying ‘terty tree’ to her.

“We don’t know what trauma happened to develop her schizophrenia, to be honest I have never wanted to know, but I was separated from her at the age of 10.

“Her illness was at it’s peak in 1977 and I have never forgotten being driven away by my dad and seeing my mother forlorn on the court steps.

“I guess losing her children exacerbated her illness.

“I went off for three decades and lived all over, even overseas, as a teacher, in marketing and in law but my mum was always in my mind.”

It was then Tracey saw photos of ‘Mad Mary’ on Facebook: “I had been told various things over the years, like my mum had died, but then I saw photos of her on social media and that she was still larger than life in Burnley,” continued Tracey.

“I must admit, I have since had a lot of the social media pictures taken down as they weren’t the most complimentary.

“I decided to come back to Burnley in 2011. I think people were surprised as stories had grown around my mother that her children had died in a fire and that’s why she was as she was.

“I was shocked when I first saw her - the years of living on the streets had taken their toll and, while many people helped, others spat on her. abused her and robbed her, while she lived, chiefly, under the culvert.

“When I saw my mum she was in hospital and she was almost blind. She had her cataracts removed and it was moving when she actually saw me for the first time in over three decades.

“Homeless people are tough to rehome as many have a distrust of ‘the system’ and obviously, having been on the streets for many years, there can be behavioural issues.

“But she told me she just wanted a ‘bed, fire and tv’ and I immediately found her a place in Calderbrook Nursing Home on Manchester Road in Burnley and, with the help of Hanover Housing Association, she lived there until she died at the end of last month. I am glad she died in a bed and not on streets for people to step over.”

Before her mum died, however, Tracey decided to form SHE - Support and Housing in East Lancashire - for women with no fixed address.

“SHE is for women in Burnley and East Lancashire of no fixed abode who need help,” said Tracey. “We focus on community-based habilitation for women at risk of offending.

“It’s about helping women re-bond with communities, children, and families, and encourage a brighter future without having to resort to crime.”

Tracey currently finances this through her writing as she is columnist for Criminal Law and Justice Weekly although she has various applications for funding in.

“We are currently helping to rehouse people so they don’t have to go through what my mum did,” added Tracey.

“I never thought my mum would die - she must have had to battle through some horrendous winters living under the culvert and I always thought, if the world blew up, there would be her and the cockroaches left!

“But I am grateful she died safe and loved.”

Mary’s funeral is on Wednesday November 12th at St Mary’s RC Church in Burnley.

For more information on SHE and Tracey McMahon go to traceymcmahon.blog.