Show me the way to go Home…

“I just feel so proud of her.” My strong mother said through her tears as we followed the lone bag-piper as he led my Granny Breslin to her final resting place. The song was called Going Home.

90 years on this earth. 1 month and one Mother’s Day she’s been gone.

Barely 2 days she shared with her own mother, who died through complications with birth. In the last maybe 15 years she kept her close to her heart on a photo pendant my dear uncle John bought for her. My Granny didn’t really talk about her mother much until she developed dementia. But it was the biggest pain and loss in her life, and she really could not wait to be reunited with her.

“She’ll be soon after her” they said when little Margaret Burns’ mother died. But 90 years, 14 children and 101 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren later… and what a legacy, what a life.

In one of our kitchen table mammoth tea and talking sessions my sister said “Think how terrified she must have been every time she was pregnant.” And it’s true…Yet she went through it 14 times, with only two of the younger ones born in hospital, the rest at home. Such a brave and selfless woman who just used her life to raise her children with her simple faith, strong morals and a lot of laughter.

My friends, and others who had never met Granny were reduced to tears at the funeral listening to all she had overcome between Derry and Scotland. Her father, a good man, died when she was 12 and herself and her sister found him when they returned from the cinema.

She was then raised by her beloved Aunt Annie in Derry, where both parents were from. “If he’s meant for you, he’ll come into the fireside.” Annie always said. And my Granda did just that, coming into the house to wait for Annie’s son Paddy every Friday night before they went to the pub. One day he asked Annie could he take Margaret to the ‘pictures.’ “You’ll have to ask her yourself.” Annie replied. My Granny was listening on the stairs, delighted.

They lived in a little house in Creggan, paying up for groceries, battling through the riots of the Troubles, and doing a miraculous job of raising 6 girls and 8 boys without murdering any of them!

I have to say, I’m biased, they’re my aunties and uncles, but the Breslins are an absolute credit to my Granny. I’m just so proud to be part of this family, and watching as they handled themselves, their grown up children, all the visitors with such grace and dignity at the wake and funeral. They are a big loving family of absolute characters, and although it was the saddest of circumstances we were delighted to see each other. The wake at times was an almost joyful occasion, which I thought maybe would have upset my mammy but she said it’s exactly what Granny would have wanted. Some of us (mostly cousins) had a drink after the soup and sandwiches of the funeral (I was the only one to volunteer to show my family up) and now we are hoping to organise a big cousins meet-up at least once a year.

Mother’s Day was yesterday, and the first one my own mother has spent without hers. I knew it would be difficult, so I had the idea of a version of my granny’s beloved photo pendant featuring a wee song my granny in her dementia especially liked to sing.

From here.

One of my favourite stories about my Granny, and it was told at the funeral, highlights her very healthy relationship with God. My auntie Eileen once found a piece of scone far from my Granny’s chair and jam dripping from the Sacred Heart picture. “You fairly knew your own mother!” she accused Jesus. Kind of regularly, actually!

She died on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. “She’s a wee lover” my Mammy said as she left to say her final goodbyes.

It comforts us all to think of the first Mother’s Day for two amazing long-suffering women. After 90 years. That’s love.

 

Margaret Breslin

7th October 1926 – 14th February 2017

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Book Review: The First Time I Said Goodbye by Claire Allan

‘Would you hold on tighter if you knew you were saying goodbye forever?

In 1959 Factory Girl Stella Hegarty finds herself falling unexpectedly for the charms of a handsome US Marine based in Derry. Caught up in a whirlwind of romance, Stella finds herself planning a new life in America with her beloved Ray. But when tragedy steps in, both their lives are thrown into turmoil and they come to realise that they may have said their first and last goodbyes.

In 2010, Stella’s daughter Annabel, reeling from the loss of her father, agrees to accompany her mother back to Ireland to meet her family for the first time. In Derry they both start to realise that sometimes you have to say goodbye to what you thought you always wanted, in order to find out what you have needed all along.’

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Hearing Claire Allan talk about her book at the wonderful launch, it’s clear that it’s a book that it very special for her. It will be for you, too. It’s a many-faceted love story that spans two very different generations. Usually I’m not sure a story incorporating 1950s Ireland would draw me, but it’s so personal a story. The 1950s-60s creep in in the desires, wishes, clothing, and responsibilities that surround young Stella, making the story all the richer.

I could relate to Annabel in many ways, she’s lost and hurt, doing her best. She never has the right thing to wear! She was always a Daddy’s girl, and facing what feels like a betrayal from her mother after his death, she struggles to understand. The rebuilding of the relationship between mother Stella and daughter Annabel is fascinating and delicately depicted.

Young Stella and Ray’s story is just breathtaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever read about such a sincere and true love. It isn’t soppy or far fetched. Really gives you something to hope for and aspire to. Prepare for your heart to be broken. Claire had the idea for this book after conducting an interview with an unlikely couple. Avril and Bob were actually at her wonderful vintage book launch and Claire’s speech was so eloquent, and her presentation to Avril had everyone sniffing and staring at the ceiling. True love is out there, everyone! Myself and my friend Caoimhe saw Avril and Bob leave, walk around the corner and put their arms around each other, and keep walking.

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Vintage cupcakes and teeny chocolate books!  Chocolate Manor is amazing chocolatemanor.co.uk

I really loved the descriptions of family life, coming from a big family myself. Even across the 60 or so years I recognised traditions and sayings. I especially enjoyed the Christmas scenes. They were so magical and comforting.

I shed a few tears, mostly for love and the selflessness of Stella.

There’s some great laughs too. Annabel and her newly found cheeky Irish cousin Sam create a wonderful duo who bounce off each other.

Claire speaking at her launch, at the site of the old Corinthian Ballroom, now the lovely Sandwich Company.
Claire speaking at her launch, at the site of the old Corinthian Ballroom, now the lovely Sandwich Company.

My own city of Derry gets shown off, I always get a thrill from recognising and spotting places in Claire’s books. You may find yourself wanting to visit. So apt in the City of Culture year. The city is looking brilliant, and with the new open spaces around the Quay you can imagine it buzzing with handsome Marines and gorgeous girls.

This is a gem of a book, and so easy to get lost in. It will break your heart, and yet fill it with hope. Claire’s seventh book is her strongest yet – and really worth snuggling up with. Let me know what you think!

Check out Claire’s website and her previous books.

Me getting all Vintage at the launch.
Me getting all Vintage at the launch.