KAZIA PELKA – hopes to solve her Irish family mystery

 

With such an exotic name, Kazia Pelka may not be immediately thought of as being Irish. ‘But I am’ she says ‘I feel hugely Irish although my father was Polish. He was in the Polish Resistance during the war and came here when he was about 17. You know, Poles and Irish are not so dissimilar really. In terms of upbringing both are very family orientated, good Catholics, can hold a drink. So, yes …’ she laughs ‘I do feel Irish.’ 

Kazia is warm and friendly, more like her character Maggie Bolton in ‘Heartbeat’ than Georgia Hobbs in ‘The Bill’, her latest incarnation.

‘… and I am also the image of my Irish grandmother’. 

She had always thought she resembled her mother until she saw a photograph of Annie Mahon Herley, her maternal grandmother. ‘I suddenly realised ‘Oh that’s who I am. I look just like her’.

The Mahons came over from McGroom near Cork and settled in West Yorkshire. There were three sisters ‘The two older ones were district nurses and matrons in Dewsbury – feared but wonderful women. I only knew my Auntie Katie but they were both strong characters. Their much younger sister, Annie was a singer. While still a teenager, a prominent business man heard her singing at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and paid for her to go to the Royal Academy to be trained as an opera singer’

Annie Mahon’s story reads like a romance novel. When she was 27, she married a much older man. Randal Herley was 50. He had come from Ireland and was an eye surgeon in Dewsbury. ‘Although he had a very successful practice, he made a point of treating people who could not afford it, for free. In those days that was quite unusual’ 

Kazia enjoys telling the romance of her grandparents story. ‘He was a batchelor and one day he was seen walking up to the Church, a sprig of orange blossom on his jacket. The word was going around and all the women out scrubbing their doorsteps were passing the word: ‘Mr Herley’s getting married’. They began to follow him because they had no idea who this prominent batchlor was marrying.’ 

He was considered a real ‘catch’ because Herley had won a Degree in the Classics at Trinity College in Dublin and then taken a medical degree before arriving in Manchester. 

Yet, inspite of the Herleys prominence, mysteriously, there is no trace of them to be found in church records. There is no trace of them anywhere.

‘I don’t know what happened but there is obviously some kind of mystery’. Kazia recalls that her aunt tried to trace the family roots but did not get very far. 

‘I would like to do that programme where you trace your family back through the years. You know, ‘Who do you think you are?’ It would be so fascinating’. 


The complete interview appeared in Irish Post - May 12,07


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