Sunday 19 January 2020

Obituary: Ruth Isabel Ross

The noted gardener and cookery writer led a life that was full and sometimes secretive

CODE CRACKER: Ruth Isabel Ross worked at Bletchley Park
CODE CRACKER: Ruth Isabel Ross worked at Bletchley Park
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Ruth Isabel Ross, who died at her home at the age of 96, was a noted, gardener, horticulturalist and cookery and gardening writer who tended to avoid the limelight herself and is best known as the mother of Shane Ross, the Independent TD for Dublin South and Minister for Transport.

Ru-Bel, as she was known in the family, was born Ruth Cherrington, in England, but after her marriage to John Ross she lived much of the remainder of her life in Ireland, where she contented herself rearing a family, writing, entertaining and creating what has been described as "a magical garden" in the surroundings of the family Palladian mansion at Knockmore near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

As a young woman of 25, Ruth Cherrington worked with the ATS Interception Corps at Bletchley Park, the highly secretive centre for British code-breakers. Her son, Shane, described his mother as "an extraordinary" woman but when questioned about her work during World War II would reply simply that she had signed the Official Secrets Act and divulged little of the nature of her work. The centre played a vital role in gathering information emanating from Germany and breaking military codes, which often furnished the Allies with advance warnings of Hitler's military plans.

It appears that she worked at the red-brick mansion in Buckinghamshire from the spring of 1942 for at least a year and her task was analysing enemy radio networks in Hut 15, one of many facilities on the campus.

After the war, in 1945, she married John Ross, a member of a distinguished Cork 'merchant prince' family who through the early death of his father had been largely raised in England. The couple met while attending history lectures at Cambridge, where Ruth was at Newnham College, which remains a 'women-only' college to this day. While she worked in Bletchley Park, he joined the Irish Guards, fighting in France and Belgium where he formed a lifelong friendship with Prince Jean of Luxembourg.

After their marriage, they returned to Ireland on the Princess Maud, spending three weeks at Macreddin in Wicklow and throwing a party in the Shelbourne Hotel. They went back to their military jobs, but afterwards returned to Ireland where John trained as a solicitor and became a leading figure in the firm Matheson Ormsby Prentice.

They raised their family at Kilgobbin, near Sandyford, before later moving to a larger house and garden near Enniskerry. John Ross was also elected to Seanad Eireann in 1961 as a member for Trinity College, a seat later held for many years by his son, Shane.

After her husband told her she hadn't used her degree "for 10 minutes", she began to work as a historical researcher, later writing about Irish houses for Country Life, before becoming a gardening columnist.

Her books, including Irish Baking Book, Irish Family Food, The Little Book of Irish Family Cooking and the Little Irish Baking Book, are still treasured by many.

Apart from cooking, her passion was her garden and with the internationally recognised illustrator Wendy Walsh she wrote An Irish Florilegium - A Year in an Irish Garden, which is regarded as a classic of the genre.

Her younger son, Connolly, died at the age of 47, an event she bore with typical stoicism. "During the war, we were cannon fodder, that is why, though I miss him terribly, some people have it worse," she told Miriam O'Callaghan in an interview. "Things that happened at the end of the war were worse."

At her funeral, Shane Ross recalled that his mother was an unashamed monarchist and was delighted to take tea with Princess Anne when she attended the Dublin Horse Show at the Royal Dublin Society earlier this year.

Ruth Ross always retained a Protestant frugality and did not believe in borrowing to support a lavish lifestyle. She was dismayed by the reckless lending of banks and financial institutions and predicted to her son, when he was finance editor of this newspaper, that it would end in disaster - as we now know it did.

He also said that, aware of the diminishing fortunes of those who depended on share dividends for their income, she had considered investing in Switzerland because she knew from childhood visits to that country that the Swiss were a hard-working, diligent nation - however he dissuaded her from this path "as a result of which we are all the poorer".

Her husband, John Ross, died in 2011 at the age of 92. Ruth Isabel continued to work in her beloved garden until shortly before she died on October 21. She is survived by her daughter Barbara Ann, son Shane and youngest daughter Pippa.

Sunday Independent

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