‘Happy birthday, Mam. Even if you don’t know it’

In a word. . . My mother doesn’t remember much but she still knows all of us. Her children. Her troubles.

It would appear the first European was also Irish.

It would appear the first European was also Irish.

 

Today is a peculiar day in our house. Our mother is 91. Our father is dead 20 years. Yes, he died on Mam’s birthday, August 24th, 1999. Typical of our father. Unconventional in life, unconventional in death. And he died in his sleep, like a baby. He was no baby. He was 80.

They met thanks to that great hero of mid-20th century Irish healthcare, Dr Noel Browne. I owe him my existence. I have not always been grateful.

My parents both worked at a sanitorium he set up in the late 1940s to fight TB. In Castlerea, Co Roscommon, to be exact. You could as easily say I owe my existence to TB. It won’t make me feel any more grateful.

The psychiatric hospital in Castlerea was taken over and its patients transferred elsewhere, temporarily. It became the main centre in the west for treating TB patients until 1952, when Merlin Park opened in Galway.

My father already worked at Castlerea as a psychiatric nurse before training as a general nurse. Who would have thought it?

Mother began work at the new sanitorium in December 1948, as a student nurse. Her parents tried everything to stop her - they were afraid she might get TB - but to no avail.

That’s my mother. A will of steel, except when it comes to sweets.

She wanted a job and independence and Noel Browne gave her both. She remained forever grateful to him. “We thought he was God,” she once said, when she could remember. She doesn’t anymore.

But she still knows all of us. Her children. Her troubles.

When we talk now she sometimes speaks of old friends and doesn’t flinch when I say something such as, “Katie is dead, Mam” or “Bernie died years ago”. I became casual. Recently she was wondering where my father was and I said “Mam, he died 20 years ago”. I shouldn’t have.

She fell into that stunned, dark place I had witnessed during family crisis past. I then dived down to where she was and grabbed her attention with, “are you alright, Mam?” She just said, “it’s an awful lot to take, all at the same time.”

The consolation was that within five minutes she had forgotten it all.

Happy birthday, Mam. Even if you don’t know it.

Birthday, from Old English byrddaeg.

inaword@irishtimes.com

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.