I smiled with memories of my mother, today, when I spotted the first primroses of the year in bloom along the path. Both my parents loved the land and our natural world, but it was Ma who taught me the names of the trees, the birds and the wild flowers.

Growing up on a farm, we would frequently arrive home from the fields with handfuls of flowers and, as Ma put them in jam jars of water, she would say, “Ah, they’re lovely primroses,” (or cowslips, or violets). They were never ‘just’ flowers. It was learning by osmosis.

Ma was one of the most creative people I ever knew. She knitted, sewed or crocheted many of the clothes we wore as children. I can’t remember a time when she didn’t have a piece of knitting or crochet in her hands. We often joked that Ma could knit, feed a baby, read a book and watch TV all at the same time.

I remember standing beside her during a funeral mass and she leaned closer to the person in front so she could count the number of stitches in the pattern of the jumper the lady was wearing. I once admired a knitted tea cosy that looked like a chicken and – months later, for my birthday – she gave me one she had knitted. She had no pattern but made one up as she went along.

She loved making things for others and many of her children and grandchildren have framed embroidery or tapestry on the wall, or crocheted blankets on their couches. Every Christmas she would have a list of things to make and her hats and scarfs would bring a smile to even the moodiest teenage grandchild.


She was always enthusiastic about learning new skills and never saw age as a barrier. She joined a painting class in her 80s and, at 88, we went away for a lacemaking course in Kinsale. Not only did she learn the basics of Carrickmacross lace that weekend; she taught several of the women there the intricacies of Irish crochet lace. Always generous at sharing her knowledge and skill, she enjoyed her weekly knitting classes in Mullingar where patterns, wool and chats were shared among the group.

Born in Dublin and educated in England (including attending a French boarding school), she probably wasn’t seen as an ideal candidate to marry Da – a garda and farmer – but marry they did and went on to farm together and raise 11 children. She kept chickens, was an enthusiastic member of the ICA, set up Macra na Tuaithe (a precursor to Foroige) clubs and was always on the go. She was a feminist, but wouldn’t call herself that and devoured books and documentaries giving her an amazing breath of general knowledge.

When Da died she took to solo travel and exploring places around the world.

Despite all her talents she was most proud of her children; warts and all. When she spoke to the priest in her last days she insisted that at her funeral mass he would say she had 12 children – ensuring that her last baby, Martin who died shortly after birth, would be remembered. She was above all else a mammy. Always modest, she would be embarrassed to know that I am writing about her (while also being proud that I write a weekly column).

This weekend would have been a double celebration as St Patrick’s Day was her birthday (93 this year) and Mother’s Day is two days later. I have no doubt we’d have spent some time in a garden centre, wandering slowly around as she contemplated what she would get and where she would want me to plant it in the garden. The plant shopping would have to be followed by a milky coffee and slice of cake.

I’ll miss her this weekend but I see her every time I step into the garden, I hear her when I hear birds sing and I feel her with me when I pick up my knitting. Happy Mother’s Day and Birthday, Ma. X

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