Diamond couple prove that persistence pays off

A couple who have lived in Gorebridge, Midlothian for 54 years have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

Hugh McIlreavy, 89, and his wife Eileen, 85, say they have enjoyed the odd dash of nobility in their lives, having crossed paths with prime ministers and royals on more than one occasion.

Mr McIlreavy is Gorebridge-raised, attending Stobhill Primary and Dalkeith High School before starting work at the Arniston Coal Co. as an apprentice surveyor. He then finished his education at Heriot-Watt College.

Hide Ad

Unable to join the RAF or the Royal Navy because of poor hearing, Mr McIlreavy contributed to the war effort by serving in the home guard while working in the pits, and continued working in opencast coal mining after gaining his surveyor's certificate in 1945.

Mrs McIlreavy was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and was also involved on the home front as a land girl. In 2008, she was given a medal by Gordon Brown for her service. After the war, she worked as a receptionist and dark room technician in the X-ray department at Buckinghamshire Theodolite Hospital before returning home to care for her mother, who was ill with cancer.

The couple might not be together today had it not for Mr McIlreavy's persistence. They met at a private function hosted by her firm in Newcastle in 1950. "It was a big posh dance, everyone was in evening wear," Mrs McIlreavy remembers.

When her future husband asked her for a dance and was challenged on how he and a friend had gained entry, he told her: "Well we're in and that's it!"

"When he asked to meet for a drink, I thought to myself, 'I don't know this man, and he's a Scot of all things.' But eventually we did meet," says Mrs McIlreavy.

They were married on November 11, 1950 at Holy Cross Church in Newcastle. Mr McIlreavy worked for a time as a surveyor for the Air Ministry, during which time he surveyed the runway at Heathrow when the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and Prince Philip returned from abroad. He was also invited to dine with Winston Churchill at Biggin Hill.

Hide Ad

The family settled in Gorebridge in 1955, where they had their three children, Laurence, Ewan and Deidre. The couple now have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Mr McIlreavy spent the rest of his career as a surveyor with the Environment Department north of the border, working on everything from prisons to TV pylons. "Occasionally I would accompany him on a surveying job, so I've seen parts of Scotland I never would have seen otherwise," says his wife.

Hide Ad

One job took Mr McIlreavy a bit further however - to Chatsworth House, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who hired him out of admiration for some work he had completed at the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The couple have an even more recent royal connection, having enjoyed an invitation to a garden party at Holyrood two years ago.

They celebrated their anniversary with a family gathering at their home.