Derry's Roma Downey tells how a gesture of love from her father inspired her new children's book

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A message of love given to Roma Downey by her daddy when she was leaving Derry to study in England has inspired a gorgeous new children’s book.

‘A Message in the Moon’, which is also raising funds for the Foyle Hospice, was inspired by the Derry actress, writer and producer’s own story of losing her mother when she was just ten years old and the comfort her father brought her.

Years later, when Roma left home for college, her father, Paddy, pointed to the full moon and told her: “Whenever you feel alone, always look into the night sky, and you’ll be reminded of how much I love you. I’ll leave a message for you in the moon.”

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The loving message brought much comfort to Roma as she travelled through life, particularly after her father passed away. She has now passed it on to parents and children through the new book, which is beautifully illustrated by New York Times bestselling artist Holly Hatam.

Roma Downey and the cover of her new book 'A Message in the Moon.'Roma Downey and the cover of her new book 'A Message in the Moon.'
Roma Downey and the cover of her new book 'A Message in the Moon.'

Speaking to the Journal, Roma told how she and her father were both ‘anxious’ about the separation, as she prepared to travel to England to study.

"This, of course, was the time before cell phones and so many of the phones boxes in the South of England, where I was to move to, had been vandalised. Communication between us was not going to be the easiest thing.

"My dad took me outside, into the garden, and told me not to be anxious, that wherever I was in the world, the same moon would be shining down on him, as it was shining down on me. He said if I was ever missing him, or was homesick, to look at the moon and he’d have left a message for me there. It was lovely and brought me so much comfort over the years.

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"I’d come home of an evening, tired after a full day at school and I’d look up to the night sky. I’d see the moon and sure enough, I’d pick up my father’s message in the moon. Unfortunately, my daddy died while I was still at college and I was a bit nervous about seeing the next moon cycle afterwards. But, I needn’t have been, because the moon rose and brought with it, still, a message of love. There isn’t a moon cycle I see, this day, that I still don’t pick up dad’s messages of love. He’s just leaving them now from the other side of the moon.”

A very festive Donall Henderson, Chief Executive of the Foyle Hospice, with the book 'A Message in the Moon,' which can be bought at the hospice.A very festive Donall Henderson, Chief Executive of the Foyle Hospice, with the book 'A Message in the Moon,' which can be bought at the hospice.
A very festive Donall Henderson, Chief Executive of the Foyle Hospice, with the book 'A Message in the Moon,' which can be bought at the hospice.

Roma told the Journal how the book has been in her ‘heart for a long time, as it’s so deeply personal’.

"I kept thinking would there be a way to incorporate the story into a book for young children – a story book. We know that kids can also experience separation anxiety, for lots of reasons.

"I was very pleased to meet the illustrator, Holly Hagan, and we began to collaborate on the book. It has turned out so charming and colourful. It is sweet and meaningful and I hope it’s going to be helpful to many children. I have great memories of reading to my daughter and two stepsons in bed at night. Kids love a bedtime story and I think it’s a lovely habit to get into – creating a tradition of reading. Reilly, my daughter, could still be travelling somewhere and she’ll take a picture. She’ll send it me and say: ‘Mum, I’ve left you a message on the moon.’

The book was released in October and has been a big hit.

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Roma Downey, pictured as a baby with her father, Paddy.Roma Downey, pictured as a baby with her father, Paddy.
Roma Downey, pictured as a baby with her father, Paddy.

"As we approach the holiday season, it is a great wee gift to pick up for children and grandchildren and the message in it is a lovely one.

"We are also reminded that the moon has no light source. It is simply a reflection of the sun. I sometimes day dream that if everyone left a message of love on the moon then maybe the moon would do what the moon does and that is, reflect all the love back to the planet. And maybe somehow we could remember that we are all connected and that we all belong to each other.’”

The book, added Roma, is ‘simply told and age appropriate’.

"It was designed to be a loving reminder for a child. I think when children are about to go to sleep, especially, they should be told stories that calm their mind and their little hearts and this is a sweet little story book.”

Roma, pictured with her father.Roma, pictured with her father.
Roma, pictured with her father.

Roma said she is delighted to have published two books this year. ‘A Message in the Moon’ follows ‘‘BE AN ANGEL: Devotions to Inspire and Encourage Love and Light Along the Way,’ which was published in February.

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"It doesn’t happen often in an author’s life and being an author is more my hobby. My main job is as a producer, more so than an actor. I also had great success this year on the film ‘A Wing and a Prayer,’ which was one of the top movies on Amazon this year. I’m very grateful to be able to get to do what I love, with great people.”

Roma has a number of things planned for next year and all will be revealed soon.

She added how this year, which has brought much heartache to her family with the loss of a brother and her great nephew, has highlighted how nothing in life is guaranteed.

"This has been in a year in my family of loss. I lost my brother and my great nephew. We have had a lot of heartache in the family this year and this also demands of you that you look at your life and your needs to be present. We need to tell people that we love them. Nothing is guaranteed and it just reminds us of how precious it all is. It was a bittersweet year, certainly.”

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Roma is a great supporter of the Foyle Hospice, of which she is patron and she is helping the service through the sales of ‘A Message in the Moon.’

Roma Downey and her father, Patrick Downey.Roma Downey and her father, Patrick Downey.
Roma Downey and her father, Patrick Downey.

"I’m a great supporter of the hospice and of Donall Henderson and all the work he does there. The hospice provides such a nurturing, warm and loving option for the people of Derry in end of life and they do so many amazing things. I wasn’t sure if any of the bookshops in Derry would be able to get hold of my book, so I said to Donall :”Why don’t we get some in, so you will have them there and can sell them on behalf of the hospice?”

“So, anyone looking for the book can get it through the hospice and all proceeds will go towards the hospice. You’re not just getting a nice book for a young family member, you are also giving a donation to the hospice. We are so, so lucky to have the Foyle Hospice and it has touched everyone’s life in some way. We are so grateful for the work they do in the community and Donall does such a terrific job. I’m always happy to support them when I can.”

Foyle Hospice Chief Executive Donall Henderson said they are extremely grateful to Roma.

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“Foyle Hospice is delighted that our patron, Roma Downey, has gifted copies of her recently published children’s book.`A Message in the Moon’ is a heartwarming read or bedtime story for any child, especially those who may be missing their loved ones and it is a beautiful reminder that we are all connected by love no matter where we are.“Thanks to Roma’s generosity and kindness, all proceeds from the sales of these books will go towards the direct provision of care for our patients and their families within the local community.”