My mum, a woman of courage

I’m not a fan of self promotion. The very existence of this column would seem to suggest otherwise but until my editor tells me to stop giving the odd opinion here and there, you’ll probably have to listen to my ramblings.

This week, though, I’m writing something incredibly personal to me. It’s been prompted by the death of much loved RTE sports presenter Colm Murray, who died after losing his battle with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) on Tuesday past.

On Friday, it was 19 years since my mother lost that very same battle. Footage of Colm Murray, because of who he was, has been played on television all week.

My mother, Mary, was a housewife from a little known part of Donegal. There is no footage of her much to speak of. We weren’t the types for home videos and she didn’t much like having her photo taken. All that said, in these few lines today I think she deserves a bit of a platform.

She was born on Good Friday in 1946 in the townland of Kinnycally just outside St Johnston. She was one of a family of seven born to my grandparents George and Kathleen Peoples. In 1957, when her mother died of Cancer, my mother left school to look after her father and younger siblings.

Gradually, as they all grew up and made their own lives in places like England, Australia, and of course Donegal, she seemed to grow up doing what she was best at - caring. She was amazingly close to her father George, one of Donegal’s best known traditional musicians.

In her time she worked as a housekeeper for business owner EJ White on St Johnston’s main street. In her mid twenties she started work as a barmaid in the Hole in the Wall bar, then run by the late Billy Toland. She loved the pub atmosphere, with great live music and regulars like John Hume, Phil Coulter and Martin McGuinness, all of whom visited the bar in their time. She met my dad there in 1974. They were married two years later. Four years later, I was born, and four years later my sister. My mother had suffered numerous miscarriages and while her family might have been much bigger, she never, ever complained about her lot in life.

For the fourteen years that I knew her, I knew a woman of remarkable strength. She had lost a brother to a brain haemorrhage and her sister and best friend, Ellen, died in 1979. She told me once she’d dreamt of becoming an air hostess and travelling the world, but life had other plans for her and she constantly put everyone in her life ahead of herself, me included. As soon as I was old enough to understand, she told me to study, and work hard, and stay at school for the longest time possible. And I did.

Now, of course, I know why that was so important to her. Like Colm Murray, she was ravaged by MND and died six months after diagnosis.

I am sorry every day that I didn’t have her for longer but eternally grateful that I knew, even for a short while, someone so remarkably selfless and loving.

She would of course be mortified that her name was in the paper at all. I desperately hope with the miracles of science, we can find a cure for MND within my lifetime. Because, that is no way to die.