Sweet sounds of family bliss with Limerick's 'von Hogans'

They don't own a TV but pray together every evening. Áine Fitzgerald meets the Terren Hogans, a family of 12 

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Sweet sounds of family bliss with Limerick's 'von Hogans'

The Terren Hogankids pictured at home in Knockainey

IT’S 1.15pm on Friday and we’re lost. Somewhere between Reardon’s pub at Holycross and the village of Knockainey, there is a house with a red roof which is home to 12.

“Is that it?” the photographer Michael Cowhey asks after we pass the umpteenth house with a tinge of red on its roof slates or trim.

Eventually, at the corner of a small junction, a proper red roof comes into view. Not alone that but there’s a minibus parked  outside the house, and, best of all, there’s lots of little people dotted all around the yard.

A little girl with a long bob offers the sweetest smile while a small boy holding a tennis racket follows the movement of the visitors with his huge, brown eyes.

“We had a nine-seater Volkswagen until Rita was born. It’s a problem because there is no private policy for those buses in Ireland – you have to use a commercial insurance policy,” explains Shane Hogan as we pass by the Ford Transit van parked at the back door. 

“In the UK you can get a private policy on a minibus but not in Ireland so our insurance went from about €300 a year on the Volkswagen up to €1,500 a year, for one extra baby.”

Just inside the doorway in a small hallway that runs past a compact kitchen a doll is fast asleep in a pram.

“There has been an awful lot of controversy about our maternity services so I thought it would be nice to compliment them and talk about our experience,” says Shane as he rests his two hands on the back of a chair at the end of a large wooden table in the large living area.

Behind him, his wife Olga pats the back of a tiny infant which is snuggling over her shoulder.

“They were very caring,” she smiles.

Judi was born just a fortnight ago at University Maternity Hospital Limerick.  She is the tenth baby Olga and Shane have welcomed into the world at the hospital - all within a 20-year period.

Emma, now 19, arrived first followed by Ruth,18, Clara, 16, Carmel, 15, Sarah,13, Oscar, 12, Rita, 8, Eliza, 5, Hugh, 3, and baby Judi.

How they met

Shane, 50, and Olga, 45, met 22 years ago while on a visit to a monastic community in central France called Taizé.

Each year tens of thousands of young pilgrims flock to the small village of Taizé to share in the community's way of life.

“During Easter of 1994 we were both there,” Shane explains.  “Olga had come from Barcelona and I had driven over from Ireland. We met in the food queue,” he smiles.

“There were 6,000 young people and we just happened to meet,” says Olga, looking across at her husband. “We were in Bible study groups and a girl from Barcelona was in Shane’s group. She introduced her group and Shane was one of the people in her group.

“I remember I couldn’t understand you,” she smiles at Shane, “you were speaking so fast.”

That was April, 1994. In May Olga came over to visit Shane in Ireland. On the second day they climbed Croagh Patrick. By August 1995 they had decided to get married. Shane and Olga were wed in January 1996.

“Emma arrived in December 1996,” Shane explains. “The first five were very close and then the gap started to grow a little bit. We do have some two or three year gaps.”

Having a big family, Shane says, “was something we were open to but it wasn’t planned”.

“I happen to be the oldest of 10 myself,” says the school teacher who grew up in Dublin. His parents Hugh and Eileen have both passed away.

There were 50 years in age between Shane and his dad, and now there are 50 years between Shane and Judi.

It is exactly 100 years since Hugh was baptised in Kilfenora in County Clare and the family are all to return there soon for Judi’s baptism. She will be christened at the same baptismal font as her grandfather.

Move to Knockainey

Shane had been working with an engineering company and went back to college to do a HDip because he wanted to pursue a career in teaching. Olga also got a job in Limerick so Limerick became their base.

“We were living in Raheen and then as our family started to grow we decided that we wanted to build a house. This site came up and we liked it.”

Olga designed the house. Shane built it.

“Obviously I got a bit of help from block layers and a few roof tilers.”

They moved into the two-storey house in the year 2000. There are five bedrooms so the children are either in twos or threes.

“That’s luxury as far as I’m concerned,” says Shane after he serves up a pot of tea and a plate of Pink Wafers and Twirls for the guests. “There was a lot more squashed into a room in my house.”

Daily routine

Shane, a teacher at CBS Charleville - he teaches technical drawing, maths and religion - is up first at 6am. He sorts the washing from the washing machine which goes on at night.

“If it’s dry he might hang them out, if not, they go in the tumble dryer,” Olga explains

“The last washing machine we got was about two years ago and we got a big one,” adds Shane. “One wash a day does it generally. I’d say we would be doing a 10kg wash.”

Everyone, except the two youngest, Hugh and Judi, get up in dribs and drabs for breakfast.  They take what they fancy from the kitchen trolley where there can be a choice of up to eight different cereals.

Cooking is easier than it sounds, according to Olga.

“If you roast a chicken you put a second chicken on the tray and they roast at the same time. You put on 10 potatoes rather than five potatoes. It’s very easy to make a roast – it’s just a matter of having enough.”

Up to now the family have managed with two chickens but they are really considering moving onto the third “because there used to be a little left over but now it’s kind of tight”.

Shane finishes school at 4pm. Some evenings he takes soccer training or tutors applied maths.

“I would usually be there until around five and would be home at 5.30pm.”

All the older girls travel with Shane to school in Charleville where they attend St Mary’s secondary school while the primary school students travel on the school bus to Knockainey NS.

Once home, it’s time for tea, homework and then bed. The last of the family typically go to bed between 10.30pm and 11pm.

“For me it’s exciting,” says Olga of being a mum of 10. “When I think I’m a mother of 10 children, I feel it’s a shock, but when you do it day-to-day, it isn’t shocking, it’s pretty normal. It doesn’t happen all of a sudden. You get used to every single baby, one at a time. They are not all babies – you can’t compare Emma to Judi.”

Olga, who studied social science says she gets great fulfilment out of being a stay-at-home mum.

“I think there is great freedom in not having to be tied down to a particular paid job – I can do a lot of things that I like.”

Shopping

There are two to three weekly shops in the Terren Hogan household with a total of €400 to €500 being spent.

“We shop online – Tesco. It’s great,” says Shane. “You literally key it into the computer the evening before and the following morning it all arrives.”

There is also the local top-up of fruit and veg and then the Lidl shop for the household items.

“We have a Miele fridge – the biggest fridge you can buy in Ireland!”

Social life

Shane, Olga and the older girls enjoy the occasional tipple.

“There could be a bottle of wine open here for a celebration and it could still be in the fridge  three weeks later. It’s nice to have a drink but none of us are heavy drinkers,” says Olga.

A night out for Shane and Olga would be attending a gig at Dolan’s Warehouse. Shane enjoys a beer.

“We would happily go out for three or four hours of an evening – maybe to a gig in Dolan’s. Ruth and Emma would look after the younger children. We noticed in the last three or four years that we had a freedom that we hadn’t had up to then. Obviously while Judi is feeding we will be more restricted for a while.”

Olga breastfed all of the children.

“Some people think that if you breastfed one, you can breastfeed them all but it’s not like that – every mouth is different, every baby is different.”

Children’s Allowance

The Terren Hogan’s are no longer in receipt of children’s allowance for Emma and Ruth and they aren’t in receipt of it for Judi just yet.

“I think it’s standing at the moment at €900 a month,” Shane explains. “We’ve been able to survive. I suppose it’s testament to our country and the various supports that we have been able to survive on one teaching salary.”

“Some people will want a certain amount of clothes and a certain lifestyle,” adds Olga. “We try to cover the basics and have a little extra for the girls to have some treats. It’s all about where you put the limit on lifestyle. For example, Shane doesn’t go to the hairdresser,” she laughs.

Faith

At the back of the kitchen table beside a window which opens out onto the lawn with its goalposts, swings and trampoline, there’s a table. On top are two tall, holy statues and an ornament depicting St Brendan on his voyage. A St Brigid’s Cross is fixed to the wall overhead.

“Everyone is in good health,” says Shane. “We consider the whole thing a gift. We accept it as it comes.”

The family are parishioners in Knockainey and all attend Mass together in the local church where Oscar, 12, serves as an altar boy.

“During the holidays, most evenings we gather here for prayers  at 7.30 and then the older ones would go and watch a DVD,” Shane explains.

The family pray The Liturgy of the Hours.

Olga brings over a medium sized prayer book. “This is what they would use in the monasteries. It is abbreviated.”

Flicking over the pages, she continues: “We go through the reading and then straight to the response. We take turns and we end on a hymn. In the morning it’s different. I would try and say a quick prayer with the primary school children and Shane would say a quick prayer in the car with the girls.”

No TV

There is no television in the Terren Hogan house.

“There is so much rubbish on it – in terms of all the ads and all the interruptions and bits and pieces,” says Shane.

“Upstairs, we have a cinema screen to watch DVDs but we don’t have a television. We just feel that it is much better for all of us to sit down and watch something from beginning to end without any other stuff coming at us – the general dross, utter rubbish that you don’t want to watch.”

Before they got married Olga and Shane had been courting for a year and a half. For much of that time Shane was in Ireland and Olga was in Spain. They communicated by letters.

“When I moved here the idea of getting to know my husband was so exciting that the thought of having a tele was like having an uninvited guest,” says Olga. “There was so much to talk about and we played guitar.

“I can understand if I was the girls or Oscar that sometimes you can feel a bit left out because other people would be talking about a soap opera or The X-Factor. But then is it something that is significant? A week later it’s something else!”

Bilingual and musical

All the children are bilingual with Olga speaking to them in Spanish. Ruth plays the flute and guitar, Carmel play the piano while Rita has a “powerful voice”.

“We would all be singing and she would sing an octave higher,” smiles Clara.

With that we all head upstairs to the cinema room for a photo of all the Terren Hogans together.

Ruth pulls up a guitar and starts plucking on its strings.

Sing Ob-la-di, says one of the smaller people, and, within seconds, the 12 smiling von Hogans are in full voice swaying from side to side...

La-la la la life goes on...