Category Archives: children.

The Presidents Daffodils.

My Mother was a ‘townie’ (inner city child) in her day. She spent her early years in Manor Street just off Aaron Quay in Dublin, and she had a pal from school whose mother worked as part of the domestic kitchen staff in Arás an Uachtaráin (house/home of the President of Ireland) which was located, and still is in the Phoenix Park which is one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe.

Kids had wonderful freedom back in those days, and as a youngster my mam cycled everywhere. She told a great story about a day when she cycled up during the holidays to play with her friend in the Arás. These two small girls were in the garden when the President came out to walk. He asked my mother if she liked flowers, and when she replied that she did, he plucked several daffodils which were in bloom and told her to bring them home to her mother and to say that they were a gift from him. My mam popped them into the basket on her bike and headed home. At the gates of the Park, one of the gate keepers stopped her and asked her where she had gotten the flowers. She truthfully answered that the President had given them to her. He didn’t believe her and threatened her with the police for stealing flowers from the park. After lots of tears he finally let her off to cycle home the short distance to Manor Street and to give her mam the flowers. Every Spring when I see daffodils growing in the lands throughout the Phoenix Park I am reminded of my mam and her lovely story. How sweet of the then President, Douglas Hyde to send flowers from his garden to my grandmother.  

Memories of a Dublin childhood…..

Growing older brings its own rewards. I tell myself this all the time and I truly believe it. It brings wisdom, confidence, and a settling in to one’s self that was largely missing for me in my younger days. Being middle aged doesn’t mean that I am on the scrap heap of life though, I am anchored in life with friends and family and I am fortunate to call Dublin my home.

Home is different to everyone and we all carry our own traditions and histories, but I believe that I am privileged to have grown up at a time in Dublin when communities felt real, and where people mattered to each other.

My childhood neighbourhood in Drimnagh was full of houses that were small and where families were large. My own house had two parents and five children. We were similar to other families that surrounded us, some having more kids, others having less. One house around the corner had seventeen children in a three bedroomed terraced home, plus two parents and a grandmother. They were lovely people, and I often wondered how they happily fitted inside the small rooms that were characteristic of the houses that we all lived in at the time.

My house in my opinion was squashed full of people, and the only places that I could comfortably exist in were my bedroom (shared with two sisters) and the living room (shared with the whole family). The ‘good room/parlour’ was out of bounds and I was only let in there with special permission.

This parlour had an opulent chesterfield suite in it that I was not allowed to sit upon on a daily basis. The room and all its contents were for guests and visitors, and I grew up peeking inside it, wishing that I could relax on the softness of the couch instead of sitting on the floor in the family room, or sharing a fireside chair with one of my siblings watching the TV which was the center point of the room.

My father was a skilled craftsman who could have knocked the wall down to make a bigger family room for us all, but my mother didn’t want that. She liked having a special room for very rare visitors and guests. That was her family tradition.

We had a little fancy telephone table in the hall, and although the telephone was cut off several times during my childhood through non-payment of bills, the ‘dead’ phone was always polished as was the table…. Keeping up appearances was an integral part of living in those days. Lots of our neighbors had ‘dead phones’ too.

As children we were always in and out of each other’s houses. The mammies made jam sandwiches for us when we were hungry, and the daddy’s played with us and taught us how to kick balls and make stuff like bows and arrows out of branches from trees.

They swung us around and praised us and kissed us when we did well. There was a simplicity to living that was innocent and precious, and I have wonderful memories of the kind and loving neighborhood dads that I grew up with.

There was a trust between us as neighbors that was never tarnished, hurt or broken.

The Daddy’s of my pals were all working class men, who loved their children and who made time for them and me after a long hard day’s work. I remember so many of them with extreme fondness and these memories will never fade.

Sadly I now only get to meet my childhood pals at the funerals of our parents and old neighbors, where we hug each other and ask about our own children and how they are doing. We recount our shared memories that we have about the people that we grew up with, and we tell ourselves how lucky we were to live in a time when lives were simpler and people trusted more.

We were lucky. We lived lives where most of us were cherished and beloved.

I realise now that there must have been many difficult domestic issues happening behind closed doors when I was growing up, and most of us were more poor than rich, but I am thankful and forever grateful that my childhood was not scarred by any type of abuse or inappropriate behavior by any of the wonderful men who were the fathers of my childhood pals. We have spoken about this when we meet at funerals and we have recounted how fortunate we were. Everyone that I knew had lovely men as fathers.

Looking back, there is always the possibility that rose tinted glasses are in place to gloss over the grimness of Dublin in the 60’s and 70’s, but as I embrace middle age I can honestly say that those glasses add a shine and luster to my childhood that will forever be pink and pretty, and nothing will ever dull the memories that I share with my childhood friends growing up in Drimnagh. I truly loved most of the fathers of my pals and I remember them with great affection. I realise how lucky I was to have a childhood that was simply about being a child with nothing else to tarnish it.

Destiny can be about looking back and wishing that you were looking forward again…..

Monnie Furlong O’Neill. 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013

Having previously written about my mams terminal illness, it is with a numbed sadness that I am writing now about her recent death.

Reading notices in newspapers about people who have died after cancer, I have always been struck by the language used. “She fought hard” or “he battled strongly”. These words always conjured up images of the said person dressed up in army fatigues, in a war zone, engaged in hand to hand combat.

Dying of cancer may be like that for some people, but I never saw it as a war or a fight that my mother could “win”.

In the earlier days of her illness there was certainly hope, but as the disease progressed, this hope was extinguished and she was left with the stark reality of facing into an uncertain future. Her time for living was limited and she knew that she was going to die.

I believe that facing our mortality must be the most frightening experience ever. We spend our lives planning this and that, visualizing particular outcomes and results. But imagining our own death and what comes after it is mystifying and terrifying, because we have nothing to go on and no images of what happens next. While medical intervention and treatments can make a person more comfortable during their illness, the undeniable fact that life is drawing to a close must be petrifying.

My mam was ill for almost two years. During this time she had incredible support and care from all the health professionals who she came into contact with. She took everything that was offered to her in the hope of gaining more time, and she accepted all treatments and interventions despite them making her feel sick and her losing all her beautiful hair.

By the time December 2012 rolled around, she was increasingly tired and unable to cope with living alone. We sometimes talked about the future, but these conversations were difficult and she confessed to feeling afraid. She was admitted into the palliative unit of the hospice in Harolds Cross in Dublin early in December and she peacefully died in their care on January 11th.

During her time there the staff made her feel so special, and they showered her with attention mixed up with humor and compassion. She was treated with absolute dignity and respect by everyone who worked there including the volunteers who brought tea in the evenings to her visitors. Spending time with her was a pleasure, and it was wonderful to see how she was viewed by the people who all contributed to her care. She loved being there and grew less afraid as time moved on. She told me this several times.

As she grew weaker her beautiful hair grew once more, and it was great to see her give up her wig and to look stylish and trendy with her new cropped pixie haircut. She was with my family on Christmas day for a few hours, and although she was tired we laughed and told stories around the dinner table as we always had done in the past. We could see though that she was struggling.

As a family we had time to spend with her as her life drew to a close. I was alone with her holding her hand when she slipped into a sleep that she would never awaken from, and my brother and I sat up with her through that first night. We whispered together in the darkness as we said our goodbyes. It was a frosty bright night and there were two foxes outside that kept stealing past her window. It was a real privilege to be there with her as she prepared for her journey from this world. She slept peacefully for three more days while our family kept vigil, and then she quietly slipped away while my two brothers and one of her own brothers were present.

She leaves behind siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbours and dear friends who loved her and who will miss her forever. She also leaves us with memories of a wonderful woman who loved life and embraced it with passion and gusto. She spoke her mind and had an opinion on almost everything, and her voice and expressions will echo around in my head for a long long time to come.

Rest easy mam, your long journey here is over, but only you know if another one is just beginning.

My future destiny will always contain elements of my past and this will always include my mother……

My sister’s birthday is approaching…..

I was born in 1960, the 2nd child in a family of five children. I don’t remember the  births of my two younger brothers but I do remember with absolute clarity the night that my baby sister Annie was born when I was ten years of age. She was born on November 7th 1970.

That particular summer, my mam didn’t want to go to Kerry in August on holidays as we had done previously. I remember being disgusted that I wasn’t going to see my friends in Ballyheigue that year because my Uncle Paddy, my mams brother, had offered us his caravan in nearby Clogherhead instead.

Looking back I realise that my mam didn’t want to be too far away from her doctor when she was in her advanced stage of pregnancy, but as a ten year old child I had no idea that a baby was on the way and that this was the rationale for the location of the family holiday that year.

That summer was very hot, and we had a great holiday in Clogherhead but it just wasn’t Kerry. Although I enjoyed the caravan holiday, I remember the time as being strange and disruptive. Mum was just different and I didn’t quite know why. Pregnancy was not talked about as openly as it is now, and as a child I had no idea that my mother was shortly to give birth although I had asked her about why she was ‘getting fat’ without getting a satisfactory answer. She brushed those questions aside that summer and I never suspected anything until I was back in school in September. I vaguely remember asking her if she was going to have a baby with no real idea of why I was asking the question, and mam telling me that her ‘bump’ was wind!

By the time October rolled around, she did tell me that she was going to have a baby but that I wasn’t to tell anybody! News like that was too much for a curious ten year old and I constantly bombarded her with questions about the new baby although I hadn’t a clue that this event was linked to her growing tummy! (I was a very innocent child at the time).

Anyway….. She had an elective delivery and was well prepared in advance.

Her gynaecologist had booked a room for her in a private nursing home on a particular day in November assuring her that he would ‘induce’ her and that her baby would be born that day. A-la-carte delivery days were all the fashion back then…

I remember being packed off to my grandparents’ house with my older sister and my two younger brothers…. It was a weekend, but we had never all stayed away from home together without one of my parents being present. I didn’t settle well in the double bed that I was sharing with my older sister that night.

My dad’s car at the time had a broken exhaust and it was very loud. You could hear the car coming before you saw it.

That night on November 7th 1970 I lay awake beside my sister Bernice in a strange bed in the darkness, listening to the different street sounds outside my grandparents’ house on the canal in Dublin city. At some stage during that long night I heard a noise in the distance and listened carefully as it grew louder and louder. I knew the sound of dad’s car (and the broken exhaust) and as it got closer I got out of bed knowing absolutely that it was my dad approaching and I crept down the stairs while the rest of the house slept.

I clearly remember the moment I opened the front door in my pyjamas, and saw my smiling dad as he walked up the garden path in the darkness towards the steps of the house. He leaned his arm against the door frame, grinning at me and said “you have a new little sister”.

This story is part of the landscape of my life.

When my darling sister Annie was old enough to listen, she loved to hear me recounting each special moment that I remembered of that particular night as she grew up. It was called ‘her story”. As she became an adult and a friend in my life, it was a ‘thing’ a ‘routine’ between us that would happen on her birthday. She would wait in anticipation that day for a phone call from me recounting faithfully my memories of the ‘day of her birth’, and she would suspend whatever it was she was doing at the time in order to hear the story. If lunchtime arrived and I hadn’t called, she would be on the phone indignantly demanding to hear it. It was and still is like a script in my head that contains colour, sound and texture of one of the most memorable nights of my life. This was one of the most precious things that we shared.

That first birthday – November 7th 2009 after her death was dreadfully sad for me as I couldn’t phone her and do the thing that we had done for so many years … No one will ever know or understand the simplicity and joy contained in that story and what it meant to us as sisters every year it was retold.

Her birthday approaches yet again…. I miss her constantly and my life is bereft without her.

November 7th 1970 is the day my darling sister Annmarie Patricia O’Neill was born. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful and beautiful relationship with this lovely girl, and I will gladly recount the story of the night of her birth to anyone who cares to listen because sadly she is not here to hear it anymore…..

My destiny lies in our past and my future without her……

Living with Epilepsy…..

My son has Epilepsy. This is not the sum of all parts that make him as a person, but it is a huge factor in his life. He grew up healthy and happy, but he suffered a head trauma 10 years ago when he was a trainee Guard at 19 years of age. He banged his baby soft skull against a concrete wall when playing a joke on a colleague which resulted in a major seizure within 24 hours. The precious safety cap that surrounded his brain was chipped and damaged that day and can never be repaired.
 
This major brain injury has impacted in so many ways on my family that can often be inarticulate and without expression, but it has affected my darling son in ways that I am sometimes emotionally inept at dealing with.
 
He has had much more to deal with than I have.
 
His promising career with the Irish Police Force ended when another seizure occurred almost twelve months later. The Guards ‘let him go’. Epilepsy is a condition that prohibits so many life and career choices, and being a member of the police force was one of them.
 
He took all of this in his stride, and despite the desperate fallout, he took a side wards step to fulfill his ambition of working with marginalised youths and went to college and is now doing all that he ever wanted to do. He works full time with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and he is dedicated to his profession and is well loved and respected by his peers. He is also a volunteer in the local football club and gives so much of his free time in the endless pursuit of community building through sport with young people.
 
He is on prescribed epilepsy medication for life and it keeps him safe (most of the time) but he has had infrequent seizures since.
He is my precious child and I adore him.
 

I admire his refusal to be categorised by his Epilepsy although the mammy in me wants to protect him and keep him in bubble wrap.
I admire his dedication in trying to make life better for other people, but I get frustrated when he puts his own health on the back burner and doesn’t place himself first.
I admire the way that he will not let this condition rule his life as he gets on with it.

But….

I wish I could wave a magic wand and go back to that day and put a pillow on that concrete wall.
I wish that he didn’t have to hide this terrible stigma that he carries 24/7
I wish that Epilepsy was understood and talked about more.
I love him for all the parts that he is and I wish that life didn’t deal him such a shitty hand of cards.

Destiny is not all that and a bag o’ chips sometimes…..

Health and Safety and the good old days…..

We are surrounded by Health and Safety notices, laws and restrictions. It can feel like autonomy has been taken from us as the Health and Safety Police decide on what is safe for us and what is not. Making a car journey recently, my husband and I had to take two cars to facilitate the transportation of our three small nephews who all have to sit in separate seats that are fitted into the back of a car. They wouldn’t all fit in one car, so we had to take two. Not factoring in the cost of petrol, and the damage to the environment, I shudder to think of the expense that parents have to go through transporting families that contain more than three or four children. Sometimes it feels like common sense has left the building as we all rely on instructions and laws to guide our movements and decision making.

Health and Safety is a new concept and one that was thankfully not around in the 70’s when I was growing up.

The first mode of transportation that I remember as a child was my Dads Bedford Van. It had double doors that opened at the back and on Sundays my Dad would regularly lift two arm chairs from our living room, depositing them in the back of the van for my Grandparents to sit in. We enjoyed excursions up the Dublin Mountains to go blackberry picking and general days out to the seaside. My older sister and I used to sit on the wheel arches in the back of this van and my mother sat up front with a baby in her arms.

We never crashed, we never got hurt and we all laughed as we rounded a corner too steeply sending myself and my sister skittering off our “seats” as the chairs also slid around the interior of the van with two old people clutching on for dear life laughing at my Dad telling him to slow down. The Health and Safety Police would take a dim view of that kind of travel I think.

I grew up in a family of five children and all my siblings had been born by 1970. My father had an Austen Cambridge Estate car back in those days and our family of seven fitted quite comfortably inside it.

One memorable summer in 1972 when I was twelve, we were packing up for a month’s long holiday to Ballyheigue in Kerry where we always took a house. Our family of seven were going, along with my grandparents and my granduncle Leo. That was ten people all making the journey in one Austen Cambridge car. My youngest sister Annie was only a toddler at the time and came with a lot of baggage. Amongst the luggage was a play pen, a pram and a cot for starters, not to mention all the clothes for a family of seven that had to be transported, along with games and other vital accessories like my father’s blue frying pan, his cooking knives and bread board.

Logistically my father worked out that ten people and all their worldly possessions were not going to fit into one car, so being a skilled carpenter he built a long wooden rectangular box that bolted onto the roof rack of the car and we all helped him pack our clothes, pram, cot etc. into the box. When it was full, my Dad then began the mammoth task of getting the humans packed up as well.

In this car the front set was a bit like a sofa. There was no division between the driver and passenger seats and the gear shift was almost under the dash. The handbrake was on the driver’s side alongside the door. Having this wide seat meant that ostensibly five people could travel in the front and five could also travel in the back.

As my grandparents and my Uncle good-humouredly squeezed themselves into the back and my father began to push the smaller kids in beside them, I realised that I was either going to be stuck with my smaller brothers in the back alongside my chain smoking grandparents and uncle, or else I was going to be up front with my mother and the baby squashed up with my older sister and my driver dad. Neither option was appealing.

I asked my dad if I could travel in the box. He laughed at first as he refused, but I persuaded him that I would love it. I suggested that he could put something soft in it for me to lie on and this would allow for much more room in the car.

I remember dragging the Eiderdown cover from my parent’s bed and making a space in the back of that box and climbing inside with my favourite book at the time. I felt like the heroine in an Enid Blyton story as I prepared for my greatest adventure ever.

My father nailed a clear plastic tarpaulin over the whole box assuring me that I would have plenty of air to breath as he would leave a corner up for me. I wasn’t a bit worried, I was just thankful that I was alone in this box and not stuffed in the car with the rest of the family.

Throughout that journey my dad stopped frequently for toilet stops and to check that I was ok. Back in the 70’s driving to Kerry took about 7 or 8 hours and it was a journey that I will never forget. We all arrived safely and had a wonderful holiday, but alas my grandparents and Uncle Leo departed to Dublin after two weeks taking a train from Tralee. On the return journey back to Dublin, there was ample room for all of us in the car so I wasn’t allowed back in the box.

Life was certainly simpler back in those times and to even contemplate putting ten people in one car today would be enough for the Health and Safety Police to lock up my poor father and throw away the key never mind allowing someone to travel on the top of the car in a wooden box.

That was the sum total of my adventure and it was one that I will never forget, although my mother still says that I dreamt it up. She says that my Dad was too sensible to ever let one of his precious children travel perilously on the roof of a car. Memories like this are really cherished, as the freedom to make decisions was based on something that resembled common sense, and a young teenagers knowledge that she could wind her dad around her little finger.

Destiny can be about recognising how good the good old days actually were.

The flip side of the coin…

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family”. The opening words of the iconic monologue from the 1996 movie ‘Trainspotting’.

But what choices do we really have when it comes to living?

I believe that life can be a series of accidents and opportunities that are constantly dependent on outside factors that we have absolutely no control over at all.

Take that great job interview that you recently did. You know that you ticked all the boxes. You know that you are qualified for the job. You have the expertise. You presented well on the day and you answered all the questions correctly.

You didn’t get the job.

Outside influences may have played a major part. The Interviewer may not have liked the colour of your hair, or she may have had her best friend’s daughter interviewing later that day. You will never know the reason.

You will go over and over what it was that you did wrong, and never find the answer because it was nothing to do with you, it was to do with someone else making a decision that might affect the rest of your life.

You had decided on a particular path assured in the belief that if you completed A you would progress to B and then on to C. Mapping out our lives is something that we all do. We have goals and aspirations to aim for, and we hope that they will be realised as we all work toward personal fulfilment.

Achievements are celebrated and greater goals are set as we attempt to pilot our way through our lives, providing for our families, setting example by our standards and generally expecting that things will work out the way we want them to because we have worked so hard to make it happen. It’s what we have been taught to do. I cannot visualise my world without order, hope, expectations and dreams.

But life is actually so arbitrary. I realise this now, and it has taken me so long to understand it.

I realise that no matter how qualified I am for a particular job, it’s someone else’s decision as to whether I get it or not.

I realise that being an obedient citizen guarantees me nothing.

I realise that actions and decisions take place that impact on my life all the time and that I have no hand in them.

I realise that most of life is chaotic and unplanned, despite our belief that there is an order to the events that affect us.

I realise that no matter how much I try to protect the people that I love, I cannot keep them safe from harm.

I realise that I have to let go my feelings of desolation because life didn’t work out quite as I had planned it would.

I realise that life can be explained by the simple metaphor of a coin toss.

Heads you live – Tails….

Destiny can just be about flipping the coin of life and accepting where it lands.