Blog posts emerge in the strangest ways. This one sprang from son, Harry, happening to mention that he would love to see the White Cliffs of Dover.

Suddenly, I was sitting at a Christmas Panto in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin with Mother, Father and Big Bro when I was about 7. I was sitting beside Mother, all snuggled up to her in our velvety seats. There was lots of fun and laughs and music but I realised that Mother was crying when they were singing the song, “There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover.”

I had never seen Mother cry before and it nearly broke my little heart to see the tears streaming down her soft cheeks.

When I was in my teens, I came to understand those tears. They were all about her cousin Terence ~ in fact, he was her double first cousin and was five years older than Mother, having been born in 1916. He was the only child of Uncle Harry and Aunt Laura. Uncle Harry was my grandmother’s brother and Aunt Laura was my grandfather’s sister.

While Mother grew up in Co. Meath, Terence lived in Athy, Co. Kildare. There was lots of coming and going between the two families and the kids would go and stay in each other’s houses during holiday times. Terence was the same age as Mother’s Big Bro and the three of them were thick as thieves.

Mother used to point out a little gap to me near Athy railway station where Terence would always be waiting to meet them when they were coming to visit and her diaries are full of entries about childhood holidays that they shared and her delight at the prospect of him coming and the fun they had riding ponies and playing on the farm.

Terence went to Trinity College in Dublin and completed his degree and was engaged to be married before he joined The Royal  Engineers to serve in World War 2.

He was killed in action on  November 23rd, 1943. Mother was never able to talk about the details of this and it was only since she died in 2009 that I discovered that he was killed in Italy and was buried there in Sangro River War Cemetery.

Terence’s Grave in Italy

All the years of my growing up, my Mother was the only person I knew who wore a poppy on Remembrance Day. It just wasn’t something that was done in Ireland because of the complex relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Poppies are worn widely nowadays but back then it was very, very different.

Apart from passed on memories of Terence from Mother, I also have a Royal Engineers Sweetheart Brooch that I found among Mother’s treasures after she died. Unfortunately, I have no idea if he gave it to Mother himself or if it fell into her hands from maybe Aunt Laura. This is something I will never be able to find out now.

Mother did tell me that just before Christmas in 1943, a Christmas card from Terence arrived to his grieving parents. His mother, Laura, was very badly affected by his death and spent many years in a nursing home afterwards. Uncle Harry, who had served in World War 1, lived a long life but always came across to me as being a bit distant. That distance used to narrow, though, each year when he sent us gift tokens for Switzer’s Store in Dublin. He loved to get ‘thank you’ letters from us for these and Mother always insisted that we write them as neatly as possible ~ not an easy task for me as I could never keep my writing straight!

I wonder if my Harry will get to see the White Cliffs of Dover. I hope he does and I also hope that he will find peace there; and that somehow a day will come when families from every corner of the world will not have to face Christmases filled with grief due to war.







Great Aunt Anna

There are Great Aunts and there are ‘great’ aunts and Aunt Anna was both to me.

She was born in 1900 and died on June 29th, 1991 ~ just a few months short of my wedding day.


Anna was my maternal grandmother’s young sister and one of those ‘forever young’ people. She was more like a sister to my mother than an aunt and I find it very difficult to describe what she was to me ~ I think I’d simply say ‘Anna.’

I have never met anyone remotely like her. She was about as fun-loving as it gets; mad into sport; generous to a fault and a supreme romantic.

She married for the first time, aged 72, and was the best ad I ever came across for marriage. She relished every moment of the eight years she had with her husband.

She lived half way between Dublin and the various homes my parents had when I was based in Dublin. I’d always call into her on my travels home at weekends and we’d spend hours chatting. She was always mad to hear about the latest romances in my life and if she got a sniff of anything serious, she’d teasingly ask me ‘where’s the ring?’  I was in my twenties then and would tell her that I had nearly 50 years to go to be in the same league as her ~ getting married at 72.

I think of her with special love tonight as we shared a passion for both playing tennis and watching Wimbledon (which starts tomorrow.) She was the person who bought me my first decent tennis racket ~ a swish wooden Maxply ~ when I won my first tournament aged 12.

She spent the last 4 years of her life in a nursing home here in Tramore, where she had spent many holidays with my parents between 1948 and 1963. Whenever I was home, I would head up to visit her and, as she was a real night owl, I tended to go up to her late in the evening.

We talked about absolutely everything ~ nothing was out of bounds. She was an avid reader of Cosmopolitan right up to the end, smoked like a trooper and had an eye for a good-looking ‘young man!’

She was all set to come to my wedding in September 1991, but got a very bad dose of shingles in the June and went into decline very rapidly. I was with her when she died in the early hours of June 29th, 1991, holding her soft hand which had always been such a comfort to me.

I’ve never been a person for rings. However, when it came to my wedding day, it seemed more than appropriate to wear the slim golden ring with a sliver of sparkling diamonds that Anna had given me shortly before she died.





Blood is Thicker than Water

St. Stephen’s Day has been quiet here but the emails that have been flying between us three sibs have been fun.

Big Sis, Big Bro and Me Photo: Frank Tubridy
Big Sis, Big Bro and Me
Photo: Frank Tubridy

While I was swimming here in Tramore yesterday, it transpires that Big Bro was caught on camera taking a dip at Dublin’s well known Forty Foot. Here’s how he directed me to the clip in the Irish Times:

Look at today’s Irish Times website, news section, photos of 40 ft. Red togs, back to camera……


Big Sis, who is also based in Dublin, emailed to be sure that I’d seen the photo and I could feel the chuckle in her words.

It all makes me think of this great quote from Sean O’Casey which was a real favourite of Mother and Dad:

Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness … the hilarious declaration, made by man that life is worth living.


My Viennese Christmas~Gatherings from Ireland # 341

I’m not long back from a show at the lovely Theatre Royal in Waterford called Vladimir’s Viennese Christmas which was bliss with lots of Strauss, polkas and, most of all a sense of family.


Vladimir is the third son in a family of musicians. He emigrated to Ireland from Slovakia about five years ago with a view to moving away from music but ended up busking on Grafton Street in Dublin and then becoming deeply involved in musical performance again.

What adds so much to this Christmas Performance  is the fact that it brings together his mother, father, sister and three brothers. Music seems to run in this family as thickly as blood and it is like listening to instinct as they play with a bondedness that one associates with identical twins.

Walking from the Theatre Royal back along the Quay with the River Suir shimmering beneath all the Christmas lights, I couldn’t but think of Waterford’s great poet, Sean Dunne (1956-1995) and this particular poem of his:

Matching the Note

A piano tinkles as a cradle rocks,

a lullaby tapped in tuned morse

when a blackbird stops at a window.

adding to the song its own sound.

It pecks at berries and then

as if to match the ivory note,

resumes its music on the sill

in a world where wishes seem granted.

(from Collected Sean Dunne, 2005, edited by Peter Fallon, Gallery Press).