Wee Daniel, his amazing missus and the frog in the pool
Michael Harding: Wise woman’s words in Donegal put a spring in my step
Daniel O’Donnell and Ms Majella McLennon on their wedding day at St Mary’s Church, Kincasslagh, Co Donegal. Photograph: Eric Luke
I met her in a hotel lobby. I just sat down to say hello. And she said she loved Daniel O’Donnell. I said I loved Bob Dylan. She said: “But Daniel is a beautiful singer”.
I said: “Bob Dylan is not so bad either”.
She looked at me with sadness and said: “I suppose you’re right,” which implied that she thought Dylan couldn’t sing for nuts.
“But there’s something special about Daniel,” she persisted, as she gazed wistfully across the foyer.
“Can you name it for me?” I wondered, as if I was a therapist. “Can you name the something that makes Daniel special?”
“Do you know,” she said, “ I once had to get the airplane from Carrickfinn to visit a cousin in Dublin, and on the same plane that evening going home to Donegal, wasn’t Daniel’s missus sitting right in front of me.”
“Honest to God. And she was completely normal. She was just like anybody else. Isn’t that amazing?”
I was drinking coffee. She was fiddling with her car keys, and sucking a boiled sweet.
“I’m waiting for me husband,” she said. “He takes for ages, grooming himself after a swim.”
Her towel and swimming gear were sticking out of a bag at her feet.
“Do you know where Daniel’s parents met?” she asked.
“Orkney Islands,” she declared. “His father was a fisherman. The mother was gutting fish in Orkney. They were from beside each other at home in Donegal, but they had to go to the Orkney Islands to meet. And if they hadn’t clicked, there would have been no wee Daniel.”
“Actually,” I said, “Daniel helped me a lot when my child was growing up.”
The woman nearly choked on her sweet.
“Do you know him?” she whispered.
“No,” I admitted. “It was just something he said on the Late Late Show years ago.
“What was that?”
“He said – ‘if you don’t go to bed at night you can’t get up in the morning’.”
“What did that mean?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But I used to say it to my daughter if she was slow getting into her pyjamas. I’d say, ‘as Daniel O’Donnell says, if you don’t go to bed at night you can’t get up in the morning’. And my daughter used to see sense in that. So much so that there was never further protests.”
“I suppose its all about motivation,” the woman observed. “Getting up in the morning.”
“It is,” I agreed.
“I come swimming,” she told me. “I love it. Every day. Crack of dawn. Not a soul there but myself. And do you know what happened yesterday?”
“I was swimming up and down the pool when, I declare to God, I seen a frog.”
“A frog in the pool?”
“Aye. There’s a hot tub on the deck and the door was open to the gardens and he must have just hopped in by accident.”
“What did you do?”
“Well that’s the heartbreaking thing,” she said. “I swam on, and he was going in the other direction but then as I was coming back down the pool didn’t I see him on the bottom.”
“Aye. I suppose. Isn’t that heartbreaking?”
“It is,” I agreed.
“He died in the pool,” she whispered, and her eyes closed as if she were meditating. As if she were a reincarnated buddha, remembering the frog from a former life.
“I think,” she said deliberately, “that what makes him special is that he’s a very compassionate creature.”
I presumed she meant the frog.
“No,” she snapped. “I’m speaking about Daniel. Like do you mind that referendum thing?” she asked.
And this time I thought she meant Brexit.
“No,” she snapped again. “The other one. The Irish one. About same sex marriage. Well like someone asked Daniel about it at the time. And he said he was voting yes. ‘Same sex marriage wasn’t hurting the people that didn’t need it,’ he said, ‘and it was really making a difference to the people that did need it’. Wasn’t that a wise answer?”
I agreed. And I was thinking maybe she’s a wise woman. And maybe the frog was blessed to swim so close to her. Maybe her compassion reached across the species barrier and touched him in his final karmic gasp on the floor of the pool.
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you,” I said as I saw her husband coming across the foyer.
“Och sure now,” she said, “aren’t we all blessed to be alive.”
And off I went with a spring in my step and delighted to be, once again, back home in Donegal.