A retired Lurgan school teacher brought a bit of magic to local kids during lockdown by featuring them in their own personalised adventure story.
What was initially meant as a one-off treat for her grandson Cohen (4) became a series of stories by Maura McGarry to delight children, including the BBC’s Kerry McLean’s young daughter Eve.
Maura (66), who lives close to the Old Portadown Road in Lurgan, taught French and drama at St Mary’s High School before it became part of St Ronan’s.
A talented dancer and amateur actor, she surprised herself by discovering a natural gift for story-telling during the pandemic.
Drawing on her acting skills, she recorded bespoke magical adventures featuring the children she was writing for and was surprised at just how popular they proved to be.
A mum of three with one grandchild, she says: “I did it as something to keep me occupied during the first lockdown.
“I am a member of Moira Players so I’m good at doing different voices.
“I made a story up for my little grandson just off the top of my head and sent it as a voice message to his dad.
“He loved it and then friends and neighbours asked me to do one for their children and I was surprised and really delighted to do them.
“I get information about the child - their age, family members’ names, what they like and their favourite foods and colours etc - and I build a personalised story around that.
“I probably did about 14 in total and would love to do more but I am not technically savvy so I don’t know how to record them. Until now I have been sending them as a voicemail.
“The kids have loved them and I have tried to keep it magical and have each child going on a magical adventure.
“They are aimed at very young children so they only last about five minutes.”
One famous client was the BBC’s Kerry McLean whose youngest child Eve loved her story so much that she has listened to it over and over again.
Maura says: “Eve loves Baby Yoda and I had never heard of Baby Yoda before and had to Google to find out what his voice was like and tried to recreate it in the story.
“Eve rang me herself to thank me which was just lovely.”
One of our best-known broadcasters, Kerry helps keep Sundays relaxed for listeners with her easy listening tunes and chat on her popular afternoon Radio Ulster show.
The mum of three says her youngest Eve (5) really struggled with having to miss out on her first year at school because of lockdown and Maura’s fabulous story was just the tonic the five year old needed to pick her up.
Kerry says: “Eve had just started P1 and was really enjoying school when we were plunged back into lockdown.
“She missed her friends, her teacher and the excitement that each new day at school brings when you’ve just begun.
“As a result, her confidence took a knock and she just wasn’t the same happy-go-lucky soul she normally is.
“Receiving this wonderful, personalised story form Maura brought her such a great big dollop of happiness when she needed it most.
“It made her laugh made her feel special and she loved listening to it over and over again. I can’t thank Maura enough for adding a little burst of sunshine into her life when she needed it most.”
Sunshine is something Maura surrounds herself with naturally and was happy to spread to others during the lockdown.
She and six other members of a Lisburn based dance group – Age on Stage – continued to meet every Friday where they raised a few smiles dancing their way round Wallace Park in Lisburn.
Maura says: “Dancing is my passion and usually with Age on Stage we would perform in nursing homes and get the residents up to join us.
“When we couldn’t do that we continued to meet up and danced like idiots around the park.
“It did look like we had been let out of the funny farm for the day but it brought a smile to peoples’ faces and our oldest member who is 90, danced round the park like a teenager.”
Now retired from teaching, Maura keeps herself as busy as ever with her many hobbies.
She is also a member of the ABC Dance Class in Portadown and The Friendly Club social group in Lurgan.
Now a story teller, she is happy to continue to record personalised stories for young children and can be contacted through her Facebook page which is in her maiden name Maura McCreave.
She adds: “I just love doing the stories and it does come quite easily to me. I do believe I have a gift. I don’t know how to package my stories but I am happy to keep doing them as voicemails as long as people want them.”