But relatives were worried the 100-year-old grandma, who has vascular dementia, would not make the milestone as she twice battled coronavirus, plus a chest infection, in the past six months.
Her son David Matthews said: "We’re staggered. It’s absolutely brilliant. We’re so proud of her and so impressed that this little, frail lady has got so much strength and determination to come through it all.”
But it’s not the first time Irene has defied expectations, with David adding: "She fell 12 months ago and broke her hips. We didn't expect her to come through the surgery but she did.”
Lancaster-born Irene grew up in Avondale Road in Bowerham with her brother Reginald, sister Elsie and parents, Thomas and Alicia Henrietta Caton, and attended Bowerham Primary and Greaves Road Secondary School in Lancaster.
After leaving school at 14, she took a job at Conroy & Jones’ Lancaster shop in China Street, before working in the telegram department at the Post Office during the war, honing a wide knowledge of British geography.
She met her future husband John “Jack” Matthews at 17 while out dancing at Floral Hall in Morecambe. The childhood sweethearts kept in touch by letter while Jack served in the army in Burma for five years, and they later married at St Paul’s Church in Lancaster.
Moving to Clare Road, Irene became a full-time home-maker before giving birth to their son David in 1951, followed by daughter Lois in 1954. The family moved to Halton in 1969 and Jack died in 1999.
Irene, who is grandma to Sophie, Mona and Olivia, remained in the same home for more than 50 years, before moving into Paradise House last year.
“She’s never smoked or drank, apart from an occasional glass of wine, and has always been a worker,” said David.
“She went through the war and had six years of not knowing how things were going to turn out. It’s a long time to go through that uncertainty. You’re in limbo. But she was resilient. That strength and inner drive: that’s taken her to 100.”