‘Mandela was one of Sorcha’s all-time heroes – along with Aung San Suu Kyi and obviously Morc Jacobs’


Sorcha stands up from the table and her old dear greets her like a long-lost stranger. Throws her orms around her, in other words, holds her tight, then storts – I don’t know – commiserating with the girl?

She’s giving it, “I’m sorry, Sorcha. I’m so, so sorry.”

And Sorcha’s going, “Thank you, Mum. And thank for your kind cord.”

Me and Honor exchange confused looks across the table. We’re in, like, Saba on Clarendon Street, doing the whole pre-Christmas dinner thing with the Lalors – a tradition.

“I said to your father that perhaps we should cancel,” Sorcha’s old dear goes. “It can’t have been an easy week for you.”

Sorcha gives her a sad smile and goes, “I’m fine, Mum. I really am. The first couple of days were tough but then I just decided that I was going to make this week about celebrating his life rather than grieving his death.”

And that’s when I realise we’re talking about Nelson Mandela.

“Even so,” Sorcha’s old dear goes, sitting down and taking Sorcha’s hand in hers, “I think you’re very, very brave the way you’re just getting on with things. Just like he would, I’m sure.”

Honor buries her head in her menu and goes, “Oh my God, that is so lame.”

I should mention at this point that Mandela was one of Sorcha’s all-time heroes – along with Aung San Suu Kyi and obviously Morc Jacobs – and the reason she feels such a strong spiritual connection to him is because he once phoned her to say thank you for all the letters and poems she wrote to him when she was a little girl growing up on the Vico Road in Killiney and he was in South Africa in basically jail.

What I should also mention – although certainly not within earshot of Sorcha – is that the phone call actually came from Oisinn, who did, and still does, a very
passable impersonation of the dude.

I remember him going, “I’m sorry it’s taken me so many years to find the time to phone you. But I want to tell you how much your letters and your poetry helped sustain me during my years in captivity.”

Let’s just say it was an April Fool’s joke that went horribly wrong. Or horribly right, if you want to look at it that way. Because Sorcha totally bought it, so much so that I didn’t have the hort to tell her the truth then and I haven’t had the balls to tell her the truth since.

Sorcha’s old man arrives. He was obviously porking the cor. There’s no greeting for me, by the way – not a “Hello!”or a “Merry Christmas!” or a “I hear you’re back where you belong, coaching the game of rugby!’ – and he doesn’t even look at Honor.

He just throws his orms around his daughter and goes, “A sad week, Sorcha. A sad, sad week.”

She’s like, “I’m fine, Dad. I really am. I was just saying to Mum that we should be celebrating Madiba’s life rather than mourning his death.”

“Quite right,” he goes, sitting down next to me – again without even acknowledging either his son-in-law or his granddaughter. He hates us both equally. “I was telling some of the chaps in the Law Library the other day about the time he rang you.”

I can feel my face suddenly burning.

Sorcha goes, “He was so inspiring. He told me to follow my hort. That was the reason – do you remember? – I decided to switch courses to Environmental Law with Languages. And even though I switched back after one term, I would say he definitely gave me the strength to make bold decisions in my life.”

I notice that Honor is suddenly staring at me with a look of both delight and wonder on her face. From the way I’m shifting in my seat, she’s obviously copped that this famous phone call had something to do with me.

Badness recognizes badness.

Sorcha’s old man goes, “One of the chaps said, ‘This daughter of yours must have been a very socially aware child?’ Writing letters to Mandela at – what were you, Sorcha?”


“Eight! Exactly! I told him you spent your Communion money on your very first subscription to Amnesty International. Do you remember that?”

“I do.”

“But what an extraordinary man this Mandela chap was. While overseeing the process of transitioning a country from minority to majority rule, he still had the time to go back and thank the people who helped to inspire him when he needed it.”

I try to change the subject. “And he’s left us with a great movie called Invictus,” I go, “which I bought for Sorcha on DVD two Christmases ago. And speaking of rugby, did you hear I’m back coaching again? In the famous Institute?”

He looks at me like I’m something he walked in while wearing his good John Lobbs. “This conversation isn’t about you,” he goes.

See, he hates rugby almost as much as he hates me.

“I’ve storted re-reading Long Walk to Freedom,” Sorcha goes, “and I’ve had Graceland on in the cor all week.”

Honor is still staring at me with a big grin on her face.

The old dear is like, “That’s wonderful!” because they’re one of those families. Positive reinforcement for every little thing.

“What are you all looking so miserable about?” a voice suddenly goes. I look up and I get a fright that almost stops my hort. Oisinn is standing over the table, absolutely mullered, wearing a paper crown. I don’t even know who he’s out
with. “It’s supposed to be

Sorcha goes, “Hi, Oisinn. We were just talking – well, reflecting really? – on the life of Madiba.”

I try to will Oisinn’s mouth shut. I’m thinking, ‘Don’t say it, Big O! Do not say it!’

But then I see this flicker of, like, recognition pass over his face. And he goes, “Hey, do you remember that April Fools Day about 10 years ago when Ross got me to ring you pretending to be him?!!!”

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