Have passport will travel, is the motto of one of Fermanagh’s greatest angels of mercy.

Florence Creighton from Lisnaskea has been a real globetrotter for the less fortunate.

And her great work for charity is matched only by her great heart and feeling for her fellow human beings.

Florence is, by a country mile, a revelation and a memorable experience, and truly one of Fermanagh’s great women for all seasons.

And she has really lived the old Biblical adage of, ‘By your deeds shall you be known’.

In Florence’s 75 action-packed years, she has been a veritable whirlwind of human energy for good that has blown her far beyond her Fermanagh shores to 60 countries.

Florence is very well known in Newtownbutler, Lisnaskea and Clones, but there are very few areas in Fermanagh that she has not brought her culinary, calligraphy, sowing, painting, crocheting, painting, counselling and writing skills to.

And she has also been invited as a guest of three Presidents of Ireland – Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and Michael D Higgins – as well as travelling with the young Neven Maguire to a cooking event in Berlin, just after the Wall came down.

More significantly, she has raised £22,000 for Mencap, and £2,000 for Action Medical Research, as well as many thousands for different cancer organisations in her long and highly-productive life.

Florence, who was born Florence Howe, has been a very practical angel of Mercy in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, East Germany, Mumbai and Bucharest, to name but a few areas she has visited to help others.

Speaking to her in the Westville Hotel in Enniskillen, it is clear she is a very dynamic and driven lady that you would find it very difficult to say no to.

But then, this is also a lady who has walked the burning sands of the Sahara with her great friend Bernie McCaffrey, from Lisnaskea; walked the Great Wall of China; braved the appalling poverty of Mumbai; and travelled to Africa with Belleek’s Barney O’Loughlin on various charity missions.

Florence also braved the icy waters at Galloon Island each New Year’s Day for the benefit of others.

However, unlike many fundraisers: “I never asked anyone to sponsor me, as I ran all my own events so that everyone got something out of it.”

Florence also ran car boot sales, mostly in Lisnaskea for charity, and had her head shaved twice for Mencap.

In latter years, Florence has become an accomplished artist, and two of her paintings hang in the Aisling Centre in Enniskillen.

She is also deeply involved in local history, and with the Fermanagh Authors, and even pens a few ballads.

Florence also overcame some early tragedy in her family life where her mother was an invalid and her father passed away tragically when she was a young girl.

But self-pity is a foreign concept to this super-energetic lady.

Florence is probably best known for her very practical work with women in Africa, empowering them through her culinary and sowing skills and ability to connect with other cultures.

Her ability to make beads from basic materials has been turned into a successful business project for women in Africa, and that is a really remarkable achievement by any standards.

And she mentions the late great W. F. McCoy, for whom she worked as a young girl as a major influence on her young life.

But it is her matter-of-fact compassion and can-do help for others who are less fortunate that shines clearly in her remarkable story.

Florence was born on a farm near Magheraveely between Newtownbutler and Clones in 1948.

Her mother became ill, and her grandmother raised her, very close to the Border with Clones for six years.

After going to school in Clones and Newtownbutler, Florence later went to the famous Collegiate School in Enniskillen.

She later lived in Clonagun and applied to Garnerville, where she was accepted. After three years, she got a job in Enniskillen Technical College in the late 1960s after going to the US to work with a family that was friendly with the Kennedys.

“It was lovely, and I learned to waterski in Lake Placid!”

She taught for a year in Lisnaskea when she came back to Fermanagh to teach cookery.

After getting a catering qualification, Florence met Clement Freud on her course, and she returned again to Fermanagh Technical College, as lecturer in charge of catering.

Her introduction to the ‘Third World’ came at a traumatic time in her life. Enniskillen butcher Pat O’Doherty sent Florence off to India in 1988, and that was the start of almost 20 years of globe- trotting for good causes.

“I was at his wedding; I iced his cake at his wedding, and he got me to dress up as a rabbit at his wedding,” said Florence.

Her first port of call was Mumbai (then called Bombay) where she brought two boys from St. Michael’s, two girls from the Collegiate, and two boys from Randalstown on her trip to India.

“I never saw poverty like it before, and I could not believe that people could live in such conditions.

“The first thing I saw in Bombay Airport were four rats, but the Indians believed in reincarnation, so one of those rats could be one of their grannies, as they did not believe in killing rats or flies.

“This was their culture, and you had to respect that.”

Florence ended up by staying for six weeks, and Dan Blake, of Blake’s of the Hollow, was one of the boys who were with Florence.

“We had raised £7,000 for the project and were able to leave £3,000 behind in Bombay with Mother Teresa.”

Florence did not meet Mother Teresa, but she had a letter personally signed by the famous Albanian nun.

Florence thereafter vowed to give a month of her time every year to help those “less fortunate than myself”.

She then went to Romania in the late 1980s, where poverty was rife in Bucharest in the post-Ceausescu era.

A Methodist missionary man, Dr. Barry Sloan, was going out to a village in East Germany, and this was to be Florence’s next adventure.

She went there in the 1990s with secondary school students from North and South to mingle with the locals, on a type of missionary mission.

Florence did the cooking for the project, which this was just one of many all over the world. She went to the East German village on three occasions.

But then in 1994, an ad in a paper for volunteers to go to Uganda kickstarted her long love affair with Africa.

“Bishop Brian Hannan and his wife went over to Uganda, and five of us stayed outside Kampala.”

The versatile Florence worked as a labourer, helping to build a centre for children with learning disabilities outside Kampala.

So, what are her memories of Uganda?

“I had been in Africa before as a tourist, in Morocco, which was very dirty and dingy, and in Egypt, where I was caught in the Gulf War in 1991.”

“I could not get over how green and lush the fields of Uganda were, and the food was lovely”.

By this stage Florence had become a vegetarian abroad, after getting food poisoning from eating under-cooked chicken in India.

A subsequent trip to Kenya was under the auspices of the Church Mission Society (CMS).

There was a team of seven which went out with a man called Ronnie Briggs (“People thought I had eloped with a train robber”).

“We went around the Masai Rural Training Centres; they are very tall, and they drink blood, but you must remember that during the Famine times in Ireland, they bled the cow, and put blood in the baby’s milk to strengthen the baby in Donegal.

“I had to do a paper on the role of women in the church; this was in 1995.”

A year later, she asked CMS where the team was going. They told her it was time she went out on her own as a STEP volunteer (Short Term Experience Placement).

Florence went to Kenya, where a catering college was being started up in Embu, in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

“I got very friendly with the women, and we built some homes with bricks; just like our turf at home, you just wait until it hardens.”

Florence taught the women to sow, knit, and crochet and a “wee bit of cooking”.

In between, Florence did a Counselling Course in Fermanagh College, and that was quickly put to use in Kenya the following year.

“This was in a hospital in Kenya, where they did not even have white coats or plastic gloves, in a very rural area.

“That year, Dr. Margaret Knox gave me a few helping tips, and in the evening, I used to sit under a tree crocheting, and two women came along and asked me if I would teach them how to do it.

“Then it grew up to 13 women, and one of them was a Buddhist lady from Japan, who was a water engineer, so there was a great variety.

“The Anglican Bishop told me there was an Irish priest called Fr. Gerry, and when I went to see him, a man said he was “on a course”.”

The following day, when Florence asked the priest if he had been on a counselling course, he said: “No, I was on a golf course.”

This indirectly launched Florence on a Rural Development course, and she continued with her counselling.

“I was a volunteer with Victim Support for many years, and I needed to have 180 hours of supervised counselling to get my diploma.

“With counselling, it was about listening in counselling, and letting people unburden their soul, as it were.”

Florence also took part in group therapy in Belmore House.

She was also involved in the Aisling Centre, and did Art Therapy with Sr. Catherine; two of Florence’s paintings are now hanging up on the wall, from 2000.

That same year, she got a phone call from CMS to see if she would go back to Uganda with seven ministers from Armagh.

She was commissioned by Archbishop Robin Eames to go on this trip.

“The troubles were over in Uganda at that stage, and we went to an Anglican Theological College in the north of the country.

“But there were stories of one woman that actually had her baby as she was running, as the soldiers would not let her stop, and she did not even have a leaf or cloth to wipe her baby, and had to run across the border. Women are so hardy.”

Florence was then asked to go to Rwanda – a country that saw so much genocide in the mid-1990s.

“It was a beautiful country, but I did not know anyone there. And talk about living by faith – I said a silent prayer, and a man tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was Florence!

“I asked him how he knew this, and he said I was the third white person he had tapped on the shoulder.

“His name was Canon Patrick and that was a good omen. But the scenery was fabulous.”

Back home, Florence finished her Rural Development, getting a Masters Degree from Queen’s, and she did it on the ‘Seeds of Peace’.

Meanwhile, in Uganda, Florence taught local women to make beads out of paper.

“This is where governments are sending millions of pounds to another government, but what they really need to do is to empower the women.

“They have a tradition of making jewellery, so that struck a chord with them when I taught them to make beads from paper.

“And if you look up ‘bead for life.org’ on the internet, it has become a multimillion dollar business, as an American woman has developed it.”

When asked about the money that is going to charitable organisations, she said that in Nairobi alone, there are 400 NGOs, and all driving around in big white jeeps with four-wheel drives – but they need them for the terrain.

Florence blended in well with the native African women. “A lot of money for charity goes into administration, but if you look at the International Fund for Ireland at home, quite an amount of that also went in administration.

“Britain stopped giving aid to Kenya after they built a tarmacked road into the President’s residence.”

Florence was in some of the bishops’ residences, and they lived in luxury, but that was because they saw the relative opulence the Irish bishops were living in.

“Instead of giving all this money to African governments, they need to empower the women.

“That is what is important, and the women who made the beads are now able educate their children, and quite often their men would just sit in the pubs, drinking and playing cards.

“The women were out with their children on their backs, chopping stones in the quarry, and Paul Clarke of UTV filmed me working with these women in the quarry.

“But in their culture, if a man marries a woman and she can’t have any family, he will move on to another woman, and if she can only produce girls, he will move on to another woman to keep the name going, as kinship is so important.”

From her work in Africa, Florence got really close to the women out there.

She references BBC journalist Fergal Keane’s great book on Rwanda, ‘Seasons of Blood – A Rwandan Journey’, where the book refers to “the world was horrified at neighbour killing neighbour”, and Florence pertinently wondered what the difference was in “neighbour killing neighbour in County Fermanagh”.

Florence lost her brother, Harry Creighton, a librarian, who was shot a month before he was due to be married, in The Troubles – the 500th victim.

But instead of becoming bitter, she became even more involved in cross-community matters.

On yet another front, Florence and her great friend Bernie McCaffrey from Lisnaskea, who works in the Graan, decided to walk across the burning sands of the Sahara Desert in 2000.

“I was in the gym in Lisnaskea when I saw an ad in the paper for a walk in the Sahara to raise money for Mencap.

“I said to Bernie, ‘I will have to get fit to do this’, and she said she would do it as well.

“So, we started training around the back roads of Lisnaskea.

“It was 120 kilometres across the Sahara Desert, and we flew into Casablanca, then we were on a bus, and then on a lorry. Our faces were darkened, and we slept in tents.”

Florence and Bernie managed to raise £7,000 for Mencap in Belfast.

“Ciara Gallagher from Belleek was the lady in charge of us, and the temperature was up to 40 degrees at times when we were walking in the desert.

“But there was always a wind blowing, and we drank a lot of water, and there were over 120 people along with us on the trip.”

On the following year, Florence went to Namibia, where News Letter feature writer Geoff Hill had the headline, ‘Florence of Arabia’.

Around 2002, for a bit of variety, Florence decided to do a walk around the Great Wall of China.

“I found this walk not too bad to do. Noel Thompson of the BBC was on this trip, and we walked and climbed a bit, and it was shorter and steep, but I liked it very much.

“I had cheap plastic trousers over my other clothes to keep the rain away, and Noel Thompson said I could not do the walk in those trousers.

‘I said, ‘If you want them off Noel, you will have to take them off’.”

In September of that year, Florence went on the Inca Trail in Peru.

“We flew into Lima, and they were playing music as a welcoming, and the Irish could learn a lesson from this.

“This was for Action Medical Research, and it was very enjoyable.

“This was a five-day walk, and I also did a walk in Brazil, and walked for 28 miles.

“I did ten walks altogether for Mencap, and I raised £1,800 for Action Medial Research.

But the following year, when Florence was going to Nepal, the BBC gave her extensive coverage in the mid-Noughties.

In parallel with all this walking, Florence ran a traditional eating-house in Rafters, Newtownbutler and was giving night classes all over the county.

But when CMS was doing a project to try and get enough money for a pool in Nepal, Florence went there and stayed for 10 days, and she did 10 days in Sri Lanka, where she carried out more charity work.

“It was very devastating to see the after-effects of the tsunami out there around 2004/2005.

“A lot of money was sent out there, but a year later the people were still living in tents.

“When the government got the funds, they sold the land close to the shore to the bigshots to build hotels, and the fishermen were housed far away from the sea.”

On that same trip, she met some of the Tamil Tigers, and she found them to be “lovely people”.

But there was a further trip – to New Zealand, in the company of Mary Peters for the restless Florence – and Mencap were the benefactors again.

She was fined NZ$200 for bringing an apple into New Zealand, because of strict quarantine measures.

“This was one of the hardest trips, and it was in a remote island.”

Mexico also beckoned and there was another walk for charity, one of Florence’s last adventures abroad.

But just for a bit of variety, she then went to Iceland for the Ulster Cancer Foundation, and she also climbed Ben Nevis.

So, what was the big attraction for doing works for charity for Florence?

“I would not say I was deeply religious, but I suppose it was because there are such divisions in Northern Ireland.

“I was brought up with my grandmother, and was living in a house that was owned by a Catholic man from Clones, and all just got on well together. I have no time for bigotry of any type.

“I have been in 60 different countries as a tourist or as a volunteer/trekker.

“We have one of the most beautiful countries here in the world, and to think that we have so much good here, and we are always complaining!

“It was to help all those less fortunate than myself. I tried to go to a different country every year to help those people.

“I taught both sides of our community and we need to bang heads together, badly.

“I worked for W. F. McCoy QC when I was 13, and he was called the prophet of Ulster Nationalism. He had a big house in Fermanagh, and I worked there every Saturday.

“This man wanted Dominion Status for Northern Ireland, as we were only a small country.

“But the Unionist Government would not listen to him, and there were times when he was not allowed up on the stage.

“He was a Liberal, and told Unionists, ‘If we don’t share power, we will be out-bred’, and it is coming true today.”

But Florence has also been involved with local history for many years.

“I was involved as a tutor with the WEA, and doing craft work and knitting in the library, and I was also in the WI and the ICA.

“I have churned and made butter in many venues also, including the Bawnacre.

“That developed into a ‘Day In The Life Of My Grandmother’, and when I had Rafters in Newtownbutler, I collected all sorts of stuff.

“Mickey McPhillips, the late photographer, got me involved in the Historical Society in Newtownbutler, and I did some talks there.

“Then I was asked to teach crochet in Clones, and it was generally to respect the way our people lived, and I lived with no electricity in my life for my first 23 years.”

Florence was interviewed for the Lisnaskea Legends series, and is a keen attender of the Novena in the Graan.

“I remember Fr. Brian [D’Arcy] speaking one time, and saying that ecumenism ‘started and ended in my mother’s kitchen’.

“I thought that was good, as his mother looked after the local Protestant children with the D’Arcys, while they went to the 12th Celebrations.”

Florence sold a place in Newtownbutler and moved to Lisnaskea in 2000, where she has been living ever since, and she became involved in the local Historical Society with the late John James Reihill.

She is also involved in the ‘Faith and Friendship’ cross-community group.

Every day is filled with something to do, and she has written a ballad about the Old Fair in Lisnaskea.

In recent years, she did the cooking for the artists in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, County Monaghan, and found it very interesting.

She is also currently involved with Oak Healthy Living in Lisnaskea, and she also was painting at the Men’s Shed group in Lisnaskea.

Florence also wrote a ballad about the late Barbara Chapman, an inspirational teacher in Newtownbutler.

She is excited about the Corner House in Lisnaskea re-opening under a new name, ‘The Corner Stone’.

“It’s a great place to go, and I have a ‘Knit and Natter’ group in the Lisnaskea Library. There used to be 32 [people] there, but with Covid-19 it has reduced, and it is on a Thursday from 10.30pm to 1am.”

Florence fought a successful battle to have a disabled parking space installed outside the library.

She feels that Fermanagh is still neglected in many vital sectors, such as health, and is annoyed that people are having to travel to Altnagelvin Hospital for crucial procedures, and the fact that a recent all-island consultation about railways excluded County Fermanagh.

When asked her opinion on Stormont being up and running again, she said: “What was the point in having a government and it not sitting? If I had not gone in to teach, I would not be paid.

“In 1961, W. F. McCoy – a QC and an MP, for whom I worked – pleaded then with the Unionist government to share power, because ‘If you don’t, you will end up in a minority’.

“If they had listened to him then, there would have been no need for Civil Rights, and power in Stormont would have been shared then as it is shared now.

“So, it is good from that point of view.”

Listening to Florence was indeed an illuminating experience, and a reminder that there are some remarkable people who genuinely care for others, and who also, importantly, work for the greater good.