Irene Jessie Young was born in Edinburgh on 16 February 1919 and died in Edinburgh on 7 June 2017. She attended St. Margaret's Convent School, Canaan Park School, St Denis's School, and then Esdaile, which was a College founded by the Rev David Esdaile as an educational establishment for the daughters of Ministers of the Church of Scotland and Professors in the Universities of Scotland.
In October 1937 she matriculated at the University of Edinburgh, and graduated with the degree of M.A. with Honours in English Language and Literature, 3 July 1942.
Irene J. Young married Lt. Leslie George Cairns on 29 December 1943. Cairns was also an Edinburgh University graduate - M.A. (Hons) History (Unclassed War Privilege), January 1944. He had been commissioned into the Royal Artillery and served in the UK, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia where he transferred to the Parachute Regiment and then to the Special Air Service Regiment (Army Air Corps), Lt. Cairns was presumed killed in action in June 1944, aged 24, when the aircraft taking him and his men on a secret mission to east central France was lost in circumstances still unexplained.
Irene J. Young also served during the Second World War, working in the Foreign Office at Bletchley Park. Later on she transferred to work with the Home Civil Service in the Scottish Office, in Edinburgh.
After the war, Irene J. Cairns attended a Secretarial Course at Marlborough Gate, London, and she had considered reading for a B.Litt. at Oxford looking at Metaphysical or Cavalier poets. She also considered work with the British Council.
She then went to South Africa where she met and married Irene J. Cairns re-married Reginal Sydney Brown, a chartered accountant and University of Natal graduate, becoming Irene J. Brown. They left South Africa in 1953 and made their home in Edinburgh. Their only son is Dr Iain Gordon Brown, MA (Hons) Edinburgh 1972, who became Principal Curator of Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland. Irene Brown was a private tutor in Latin and English, worked briefly for an Edinburgh publisher and for ten years in a departmental library at Edinburgh University. Her war memoir, Enigma Variations, was published in 1990, with a second expanded edition in 2000. She died on 7 June 2017. Her son chose, edited and published a volume of her verse, with a memoir, in 2017: A Two-Coloured Skein: Selected Poems.