Two pictures shared today
In black and white
a pic of me today
In full colour
a pic on this day nine year’s ago
midway through stem cell transplant
the effects of chemo
Not your basic poison
No the high dose kind
Our bodies are amazing
At times hopeless
But I never lost hope
Here I am
Living life to the full
Busy being me
Busy being B
Busy just being.
On this day 10 years ago my beloved grandmother died. She was a good age as they say and she passed away after a short but very challenging battle with Esophageal/Stomach cancer.
Her name was Mary Elizabeth Drumm (nee Egan). She used to joke that she was called by one of the Queen’s names. She was also known as Babs by some of her family as she was the youngest. When we visited relatives with her in Athlone she went from being our ‘Mammy Drumm’ to Babs.
I think I was the one who first called her Mammy Drumm. When I was just short of two my younger sister arrived into the world. My mum was 25 but she had three girls under the age of 4. That was more than a handful so I was sent off to live with my grandmother Mammy Drumm (My Dad’s mum) and my other gran came down to be with my Mum, the new baby and my older sister. After a couple of weeks with my ‘Mammy Drumm’ my Dad arrived to collect me. I am told that I didn’t want to get into the car, that I wanted to stay with my Mammy Drumm. I believe my gran also asked my Dad to leave me with her for a little longer.
We were her only grandchildren. As a young married woman my gran had a number of miscarriages and a stillbirth. She had also lost her beloved eldest son Paddy when he was four and when my Dad was just nine month’s old.
They lived in Gort in Co Galway at the time. Paddy was known all around the village as he was feisty and full of character. He would call to some of the houses and speak to the housekeepers and he would say ‘I will say thank you if you give me bread and jam’. They would always comply and he would always say thank you. Paddy was hit by a car/truck when he was outside playing. He was taken off to the hospital where they kept him in and where initially they refused to let my gran see him. She was having none of it and demanded to see him. Her husband Mick was in the army at the time and they were part of a very close-knit community in the army and in the village. They spent time with Paddy in the hospital over the days that followed. They had no car so they would get lifts and cycle 20 miles to be with him. Paddy had a broken leg and so it was covered in plaster. The medical team didn’t pay the attention they should have to the large cut which got infected and which eventually caused blood poisoning and the death of their beloved son Paddy. He was buried in the children’s graveyard in Gort and the people of the town never quite recovered from the tragedy. Neither did my grandparents.
I know that my gran held Paddy in her heart for her whole life and she spoke about him often. She lost her husband at a young age too. I sometimes wondered how she went on after all that tragedy.
But if you knew my gran you would know that she was quite simply THE most amazing woman. She was way ahead of her time in terms of thinking, fashion, opinion and all manner of things. She drew us to her like a magnet with her wit, kindness and her love. She would say that it was her purse which also drew us to her as she spoiled us – just enough, so as not to get into trouble with our parents.
She was my Godmother, my sponsor at Confirmation, the first person I told when I found out I was pregnant with Emma. She believed in tradition and legacy. She insisted on buying my wedding dress for me – I was her Godchild, her Grandchild and the first of her grand children to get married.
She used to say to me ‘When I am dead and gone, I can’t take it with me and you will look at that dress in years to come and remember me’. The dress is far down a long list of reasons I will remember her always.
She had a tremendous wit and a love of company and conversation. She was brilliant at games, cards and asking for a bargain. She would put on this air of being a poor old lady when she was in fact quite the opposite – and you would fool her and deceive her at your peril. She was firm with us when she needed to be but I will remember her as kind and funny and a hundred other ways, before I will remember her as a cross person.
She was teetotal but she loved tea. She was a pioneer but later on in her life she allowed herself a glass of bubbly at a wedding.
She was a woman of deep personal faith in God and she was always in the middle of a Novena when we went to stay with her. She would always have a candle lighting on the mantelpiece in the kitchen for some intention. I can’t begin to imagine how many candles she expended on our exams and on tests! She kept them lit!
She had five grandchildren and she loved each one of us. She never took sides. She had nieces and nephews too whom she loved like they were hers.
Bryan and I gave Mammy Drumm her first grandchild. When Emma was two weeks old I surprised my gran by driving from Newbridge to Longford so as she could meet her. She was besotted and so began another wonderful relationship between Mammy Drumm and her first great grandchild. She was blessed to get to see three more great grandchildren before she closed her eyes.
My gran was an Egan from Clonmacnoise where she grew up in a farming family. While she lived in the West of Ireland, in Dublin,Athlone and Longford, her heart was always in Clonmacnoise. She never missed the pattern there and we were regular pilgrims to Saint Ciaran there and grew to love that sacred place as much as she did. It’s in our blood.
Mammy Drumm was a regular visitor to us in Newbridge and Emma loved her. She spent time with Bryan and me when we were newly weds after a serious accident left her in traction for 7 weeks.
The last Summer she came to stay with us was the Summer of 2005. I knew she wasn’t well when I heard her being sick in the middle of the night. She brushed it off and said it was just an upset tummy. I accepted her explanation. She was devious at times and hid how bad she was feeling. Weeks later when she was back at home we realised it was something more serious. It all went downhill after that.
A few weeks before she died I was in work and I suddenly felt anxious about her and about the lack of a firm diagnosis. My brother was in Cavan with her and was trying to get answers about treatment. I left work and drove to Cavan and myself and my brother received the news that she was not going to get better. The doctors said she was not going to survive the cancer, that she would eventually succumb to it. I went back to see her on the ward and I was terrified of having to talk to her about death. She knew before I said anything. She had been afraid of cancer her whole life and when saying the word she would whisper it or spell it! As she lay in her hospital bed looking frail and pale she reached over and beckoned for me to lean in and she whispered to me ‘I am ready to go. I am not afraid’. I asked her if she wanted to see the Chaplain and she said she did. I had him paged and he spent time with her. When he came out, he looked at me and said she is happy and at peace. She is ready to go.
None of us who loved her were ready to let her go. She was the Matriarch, the head of the family, the glue that kept us all together. My mother deserves the credit for being a living angel to my gran when she was sick. She nursed her at home when she was in and out of hospital for the months before her final diagnosis. She sat with her at night and cleaned up the mess that this type of a disease brings. No one did more for my gran in her final weeks and days than my mum did.
My Mum, Dad and brother were with my gran when she died in the early hours of the morning of 10 May 2006. I wasn’t there and it is something I will always regret. I got the call just moments after she had passed. It was the saddest moment and there is a gap in our lives that nothing and no one can ever fill.
We knew what we had to do. I was asked by her to phone a priest friend of hers in Longford with the news. When I called him to tell him the news he said ‘I know what I have to do’. I am not quite sure what he meant but suddenly all sorts of things swung into action. We followed her wishes to the letter – She was waked near our house in a funeral home. She wanted a removal to the Church and a requiem Mass and she wanted to be buried beside her beloved husband in Longford.
We all had our part to play.
When we received her remains to the nursing home from the hospital, there was work to be done. She had the most wonderful silver grey hair and my Mum always set it for her. It would have been important for her to be well presented so my Mum and I worked on her. My Mum set her hair. I did her make up. I had never done anything like that before and I was shaking as I did it. I cried and cried until my tear ducts were dry – we all did – but we all played our part.
She had a beautiful wake with prayers and then we had family time with her until late into the night. Her removal and funeral Mass were beautiful. As we brought her remains into the church there was a ferocious rumble of thunder – she always hated thunder and it was as if she was having a last joke.
She would have loved the idea that two bishops officiated at her funeral Mass and burial in the cemetery in the Longford. Her old friend Bishop Colm O’Reilly was there waiting for us in the graveyard when we arrived as was her lifelong friend – the priest I had to call. It suddenly made sense.
We said goodbye to her at the graveyard in Longford. My brothers stayed to fill in the grave. We all played our part.
Ten years on she is still missed, still talked about, still loved.
I miss you Mammy Drumm. I hope the tea is good in heaven.
I know that you have worked hard and studied
I know that one final exam can seem unfair
to show the sum of your worth.
I know that you are nervous
I can sense it,
even behind your smile and assurances that you are ok.
I know that you are tired and that
words are blurring on the page,
so sometimes a break from the books
is the best thing to do.
I know that you are doubtful
of finishing long papers in time.
I know that you are hopeful
for favourite poems coming up.
I know that you are ready.
I have watched you for six long years.
I know that the hard part is waiting
for the first exam to start.
So, I am praying for the nerves to settled
as soon as you pick up your pen.
I am praying for the answers t come to you
as soon as you see the question.
I am praying for Plath and McCarthy
as topics in English and History.
I am praying for enough time for you
to get it all down on paper.
I am praying for strength and endurance
to get through the next few days.
I pray that you talents will shine through
and that your words and efforts will
inspire generosity in the examiner.
I pray for perspective
for the knowledge that in the long run
this won’t be what defines you in the world.
I pray for gentle and untroubled sleep
for you on the nights before your exams.
I pray that you will always know
how much you are loved, cherished
and valued in our family and in the wider world.
I pray that you will have faith that all will be well.
Written for my daughter Emma as she prepared for her State examinations last Summer. It’s a tough and challenging time so hang in there. All will be well.
Many of the civilian bodies lay in City Hall for several days after the Rising, but they were never claimed because their relatives lacked the financial means to bury them. “These were the poorest or the poor.”
If you live in Ireland or have any interest in Ireland then you will know that the country is right in the middle of commemorating the events on Easter 1916. State, Church and civilians are all involved in the celebrations and in remembering the events of those days over Easter, one hundred years ago.
This is a condensed one paragraph overview of what happened in 1916:
The Easter Rising (Irish: Éirí Amach na Cásca), also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, April 1916. The Rising was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in World War I. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.
There are acres and acres of pages you can read on the Rising and I am not going to repeat them here.
My focus in this blog are the civilians who were killed in the 1916 Rising. Late last year I did an interview on the weekly arts show which I produce and present each Wednesday on Kfm radio in Kildare. My interview was with Ciara OKeeffe and she told me about her idea to commemorate the civilians who were killed. Her project was called the 1916 Sackville Street Art Project. Sackville Street was the name for O’Connell Street before it was changed.
The aim of 1916 Sackville Street Art Project was to hold an exhibition of houses in any 3D art form commemorating the lives of the ordinary civilians that were killed in the 1916 Easter Rising. 485 people were killed in the Easter Rising 1916, 262 of these were civilians. The objective of the Art Project is to tell their story by constructing 262 3D art form houses representing each of the civilians killed. It was hoped that this art project will in some way contribute to commemorating these innocent souls who died during the conflict of 1916 Easter Rising. Ciara and her colleagues needed 262 people of 2016 to create a house to remember a civilian who was killed in 1916. They set up a website and when you clicked onto it, you selected a civilian you wished to remember. There would only be 262 pieces to create.
I don’t do art. I can knit a bit (as long are there no curves in it or complicated things like sleeves). But, in the middle of the radio interview with Ciara I said that I would create a house for one of the civilians.
It was only after the interview was aired that I said to myself ‘what were you thinking’.
I registered for my civilian in an optimistic moment. I chose Margaret McGuiness aged 50. She died from wounds received during the fighting in Dublin. Her death is recorded on 3 April 1916 and she is buried in Deansgrange with her husband who had passed away two years before her. She lived in 3 Pembroke Cottages in Dublin. Additional research did not throw up a lot more information on her so I was on my own when it came to inspiration for the house.
I chose her because she was the closest in age to me. I will be fifty in a few years time. I was thinking about what she would have been doing back in 1916 and the type of crafts that might have formed part of her day to day life. I knew I wanted to knit some aspect of the house.
I parked the idea after that. I was delighted to read a few weeks later that all the civilians had been matched to a 2016 civilian and that all 262 houses would be made.
Christmas came and went and a sudden realisation came over me at the end of January this year that I had a house to build. The dimensions were quite small so it was not going to be a massive construction project, but still, I had made a promise to 1916 Sackville Street and to Margaret McGuiness.
I got to work. I used some wood templates, some cork board, some buttons from my own button box, some thread, some measuring tape, some pins and some spools of thread. There was a lot of superglue used and fingers stuck together and to the buttons, as a result.
Little by little it all came together and this is my house in memory of Margaret McGuinness.
I am surprised and delighted that it all came together for me. I have never done anything like this before do it has been a joy to do.
The exhibition is on at the moment in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin and it will run there for another two weeks until 24 April. I think the houses are coming to Kildare then for two exhibitions and there is talk too of finding a permanent home for this wonderful exhibition.
There are so many beautiful houses and the feedback from those who have attended the exhibition has been emotional and moving. There is a special quality to this unique exhibition.
Fine out more about the project and see more of the photos on their website and social media pages:
Facebook 1916 Sackville Street Art Project
This is my house in situ in the exhibition. Thanks to Eleanor Swan for taking this and sharing it.
Go see it!
I joined the In Caelo Choir in Newbridge Parish in January of this year. We rehearse every second Tuesday night and we sing at Mass every second Sunday. I am very much one of the newbies to the choir so I had no idea that from time to time the choir gets invited to sing in other churches. I was delighted to hear that we had been asked to sing at Mass in Saint Mary’s Pro – Cathedral in Dublin on Saint Patrick’s Day. I was nervous too! I was doubly nervous when I realised we would be singing most of the parts of the Mass and the hymns in Irish and that we would be doing so in the presence of President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.
The Saint Patrick’s Day Mass is an important service in the liturgical calendar and no more so this year as it is 1916 and we are commemorating the events of 1916. As well as singing in the presence of Uachtarán na hÉireann, we would also be performing to a packed church with a congregation made up of people from Dublin, from around Ireland and from around the world. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was presiding at the Mass and Father Bryan Shorthall from the Capuchins would be the chief celebrant and the homilist.
We had intensive rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the Mass under the direction of Cora Coffey. Sharon Lyons, who would be the soloist on the day of the Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, also came to spend time with us in rehearsal.
We left Newbridge bright and early on Saint Patrick’s Day (17 March) and made our way to Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, through the streets which were cordoned off for the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. After weeks of rehearsals we felt ready but nervous at the prospect of being part of such an important and established tradition of the annual Aifreann Phádraig Naofa.
Thankfully there was time for a quick run through of all our pieces with Sharon and Cora. We were accompanied by Padraig Meredith on piano and we had some organ accompaniment from Gerard Gillen. Our singing was given a real traditional Irish flavour by the addition of a harp and some uilleann pipes and we had a very talented brother and sister playing cello and violin. We sang most of the pieces in Irish and our finale piece was Hail Glorious Saint Patrick.
After the Mass was over we had a chance to enjoy some refreshments in the side rooms of the Pro Cathedral. We met some of the priests attached to the Pro-Cathedral and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin came out to say hell and to stand in for a quick photo!
We were all wearing a beautifully crocheted green shamrocks made by hand by one of our choir members Sinéad Buckley. Sinéad had made an extra one in the hope that she might get a chance to present it to the President’s wife Sabina. The chance came and a delighted Sabina Higgins is now the proud owner of a beautiful piece of crochet made by Sinéad.
One of the highlights of the day was when we all had a chance to pose for a photo with President Higgins and his wife. We were lined up the stairs of the side entrance to the Pro Cathedral house. We decided to kill the time we were waiting for the Presidential party to arrive by reprising a verse of Hail Glorious Saint Patrick. When the President and his wife arrived for the photo they invited us to sing for them again. We were only too happy to oblige and as I reviewed the video afterwards I noticed that both of them were singing along with us to Hail Glorious Saint Patrick. Afterwards, they thanked us and wished us a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.
This is a short video of the verse we sang for the President and his wife.
We waved them off from the Pro-Cathedral where they sat into a waiting car to immediately officiate at the opening of the parade.
We left on a high, with wonderful memories of a day which will never be forgotten and with a great feeling of pride in ourselves, in our country and in our President and First Lady.
Didn’t I pick just the right year to join the choir?
“Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.”
― Pat Conroy,
I received an email into my inbox a couple of weeks ago from the lovely people at http://www.herfamily.ie. They asked if I would consider writing a guest blog about being a mum who lives with cancer.
I said yes, but when I sat down to write it, I had no idea where to begin. How do you fit a whole year of treatment and nine years of life after treatment into a blog post?
I managed to fit a good chunk of the story into what they had to call a ‘Sunday Read’, which translates as ‘a very long read so make sure you are sitting comfortably with a cup of tea when you sit down to read it’.
Here is a link to what has appeared on the HerFamily.ie website. If you like it please feel free to share it from there or from here. We won’t fight over blog hits!
Thanks to the team at HerFamily.ie for giving me the opportunity to be a guest blogger. Perhaps I can add that to my blogging CV now!
Mothers are the hands that hold us up until we learn to fly, and often those hands have a hard time letting go of us, the baby bird whose wings are strong enough to carry it now. They’ve held it up even when their arms shook, even when they wanted nothing more than to throw down this tremendous burden and run away. – Emma Tobin
Better late than never as the saying goes! I had planned to share this with all the wonderful Mums I know on Mother’s Day. In Ireland we celebrated Mother’s Day on Sunday 6 March. I know that in parts of the world, Mother’s Day falls much later in the year. So while this post was too late for Ireland, it might just be posted in plenty of time for mothers in other parts of the world.
This is a piece called ‘On Motherhood’ written by my wonderfully gifted daughter Emma. Emma was 17 when she wrote this about a year ago. It’s hard sometimes for me to comprehend that something as profound as this can come from someone so young. When I read this for the first time, I cried, and smiled, and I was left with feelings of immense pride for the woman she has become. This is for all the Mams.
On Motherhood – Emma Tobin
Mothers are the hands that hold us up until we learn to fly, and often those hands have a hard time letting go of us, the baby bird whose wings are strong enough to carry it now. They’ve held it up even when their arms shook, even when they wanted nothing more than to throw down this tremendous burden and run away.
Sooner or later, we all lose our mother, and it happens to some sooner than it happens to others. Some of have to learn to fly faster than others (and some of us never learn to fly), but a mother isn’t something that can be completely taken from us. Whether or not you believe that there is a chamber in our heart nobody talks about where those we love reside, there is a connection between a mother and her children that defies life and death and distance. Even when the umbilical cord is cut and even when we’re forced out of safety and into the infamously unfair world, we are always connected to our mother.
Even if we never get a chance to get to know this person we see reflected in our eyes and in the way we smile, our mother can never truly leave us so long as we are the person that she loves more than her own life. So long as we are the people she’s fighting Velociraptors for in her nightmares, then she is the one person who will love us even if the rest of the world knows that we’re a complete brat.
Unfortunately, we can’t control the way our mother feels, and we can’t control it if they don’t really live up to their title. Which is why we learn that the person whose uterus we inhabited isn’t always the person we call mother. People aren’t perfect, and not everyone is strong enough to be a mother. So don’t limit yourself to the belief that just because this person who gave you their genes doesn’t feel the way they should, that you don’t have someone you can call mother. Just like everyone has a soul mate, everyone has someone who is willing to give them a mother’s love. They can be hard to find, and sometimes we’re already flying before we realise who was holding us up the whole time.
Mother’s Day is a tribute to those who call themselves mothers, who have given everything again and again just to get us off the ground. They don’t get to stop holding us up, but they get to see us look down and notice that without them we’d be falling.
Don’t hold back, spare no expense, but always remember that it’s not about getting the right DVD, it’s about the expression of love that you show even in handing over the wrong DVD. A single day each year isn’t too much to ask for the lifetime of dedication that goes into having a child. This woman gave up so much so that you could be alive, and the fact that you’re here means that even if a certain accident happened prior to your birth, it became a gift the first time she looked into your eyes, or heard you laugh.
You can’t imagine the kind of love that consumes a mother when she sees her child for the first time. It trumps anything they’ve felt before; they look into your eyes and they’re scared because they know right in that moment that they’d die for you. Without hesitation, without a second thought, because nothing on this earth could hurt them more than losing you.
Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be elaborate, because you could give your mother anything under the sun and it would be worth nothing compared to what your life is worth to her.