‘Women who drive today are not independent at all’

Life stories: Emer Cosgrave at home in Blackrock. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Life stories: Emer Cosgrave at home in Blackrock. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

In conversation with Rosita Boland: Emer Cosgrave, 93, was born in Clontarf and as an adult worked as a subeditor, civil servant and mother. She lives in Blackrock, Co Dublin


I got married to Joe at 22. In those days the nuns would tell you that you should be either married by 21 or in a convent. Before that I had worked as a subeditor in Women’s Life , when Maura Laverty was editor, and then I joined the Civil Service.

I had to give up my job when I got married. I thought that was a terrible waste, because you weren’t so busy any more. In the first few years of marriage I lived in Wexford, and then in the 1940s we moved back to Dublin, to Walkinstown. It was a new suburb then. My parents bought the house next door to us. I’ve lived in Dublin ever since.

We had seven children, and I have 16 grandchildren now. It’s a big family these days, but it wasn’t unusual then. Joe worked as a maintenance man in Fiat. He smoked, and he died of emphysema. I never smoked and I never drank, and I have an aversion to people going to the pub. I don’t serve alcohol in my house.

Joe would have been 100 this year, and the whole family got together to celebrate him. I miss him terribly– he did everything for me. He’d show me how to work everything. He died 22 years ago. But everybody has to die, so you don’t go round moaning “My husband died”. You just go on living.

I can’t understand why women nowadays want financial independence. The money in our house was all the one. It didn’t matter who earned it.

I never drove: Joe drove me everywhere, and when he died I was too old to learn. But I think that women who drive today are not independent at all: they have made more work for themselves, because they are the ones who end up doing all the driving of children, whether it’s to classes after school or to nursery school every day.

They’re not as free and independent as they thought. They have washing machines and dishwashers, which we didn’t have, and still they say they never have a minute to themselves. Women have even more work to do now than they had in my day.

At the same time I’m horrified to see men doing housework, because it’s a woman’s job. I know there are male chefs in restaurants, but I don’t think it’s a man’s place in the house to cook. It’s the woman’s job to make the home and mind the children. I still serve the men first when they come over for dinner. Boys have to be served first because they don’t have the patience to wait.

The garden is my hobby. And I was always involved in committees, my whole life. One of the things I’m proudest of is that I was a founder member of an active-retirement group, but I don’t think there’s a need for it any more. Now people can do courses about retirement before they retire.

I set up my club, Knit Wits, a couple of years ago. It’s a Monday-night club in my house, for my grandchildren and their friends, and anyone else who wants to come, to learn about sewing and knitting. There are about 20 people here every week, passing craft skills to each other.

I always vote. Every government gets criticised when they go in, because once you’re in a party you’re a yes man. That’s why I think Independents are better. But then they can do nothing. I don’t vote for parties; I vote for people.

I’m Catholic, and I go to Mass. They are the rules. If you’re in a club you do what the rules are, and if you don’t like it you get out. My faith is very important to me. I pray all the time and for everybody.

The sad thing about getting old is losing family and friends. It is very sad, and it gets sadder. I know more people up in Glasnevin now than I do who are alive, as my grandfather used to say. Yet the thought of death doesn’t bother me. People shouldn’t grieve too much when someone dies, because God wants them. I know God said there was an afterlife, but I don’t try to visualise it.

I often say a prayer for people who are not believers, because I think life is very sad for them. Any Christian who believes in God has a friend, and so they’re not lonely people.

Something I have learned in life is that some people will help you all the time, and others only ever think about themselves. I don’t think people change throughout life. I think you always stay the same.

What do I value most in people? Kindness. Without a doubt, it’s kindness.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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