Irene's resilience more beautiful than bikini body
AN 'INSPIRATIONAL' photo of 90-year-old Irene Kearney wearing a bikini went viral this month.
However, according to those close to her, the resilient Ballina matriarch, whose life has been beset by tragedy, is inspirational for so much more than her ability to 'rock' a two-piece at 90.
Literally thousands of Facebook users and scores of major news outlets shared the image of Irene resplendent on the deck of a cruise ship wearing a Seafolly polka-dot bikini.
The photo, initially posted by swimwear boutique Lady Wategos, solicited gushing commentary from women around the world. It was unanimous -- Irene was an 'inspiration'.
While nobody could dispute Irene Kearney's striking frame and evident lust for life, her daughter Helen Kearney, Irene's companion on the recent cruise from Sydney to Tasmania, believes her mother is inspirational, but not because her nonagenarian bikini body went viral on Facebook.
Born and bred in Ballina, when Irene Kearney turned 90 in November, she voiced her now-or-never wish to go on a cruise - the sort of luxury never afforded to her in all her years raising a large family in Swift Street, Ballina.
"Even though she looks lovely in a bikini she has had a really tragic life," explained Helen.
She has had eleven full-term pregnancies. She lost a baby at 12 weeks. That was a tragic loss but with a baby, in those days, it was swept under the carpet. There wasn't even a funeral.
"Then she lost a son, David who severed his spinal cord at 22 years old, mucking around at the old Missingham Bridge.
"David was a bit of a surfie, but there was no surf that day. They were mucking around and he dived and it was too shallow and he passed away four days later in Prince Alfred Hospital in Brisbane.
"It happened just before Christmas Eve," Ms Kearney said.
In 2011, her daughter Maree also passed away from a brain tumour.
Irene was brought up in an orphanage until 13. Her mother suffered from post natal depression, it is believed, and her father died 12 months after she returned.
"It just goes to show what a bloody marvelous job she did of mothering her children even when she wasn't really mothered herself," said Helen.
"So she has had all this awful grief, but through her incredible faith, she has become an inspiration to people.
"She looked after us really well. We were a big family but we never went without food or clothes.
"She always sewed everything. She even crocheted our bikinis. She learnt to crotchet with the CWA later in life.
"She used to do the knitting machine and she had the kids from the high school come over to the house and learn it.
"She was never really a social sort of person. She didn't get involved with women's clubs but she was very industrious around the home. She would get involved in walkathons and ride her bike to Lennox Head. So she has always kept herself fit," Ms Kearney said.
She is famous at the nursing home where she now resides for her ability to touch her toes. So when staff found out she was off on a cruise, they suggested she buy a bikini.
"She knew a cruise was now or never and I wanted to see it through and make sure it happened," Ms Kearney said.
"She woke up every morning and asked, 'Are we still on a boat?'. She loved the little luxuries. Like getting an ice cream whenever she wanted."
As for her online fame, Irene is nonplussed.
"She didn't want to get up and look at the internet. She just said ' I hope people are saying nice things about me," Helen said.