A tribute to great mums: my rock, my best friend, my hero

Anne Sheridan


Anne Sheridan

A tribute to great mums: my rock, my best friend, my hero

Three generations: Aoise Kennedy, centre, with her mother Gwen and grandmother Jo Hanley Picture Eva Birdthistle

Ahead of Mother’s day this Sunday Anne Sheridan canvassed the opinions on local people about what makes their mums great

EACH Mother's day I send not one but two Mother's Day cards. The first, of course, is to my own mother, and the second is to another woman, who made my mum the great mother she is. 

My grandmother, Bridie C. Shine, came down from Dublin in the 1950s to help manage a family business in Moyvane, north Kerry. It was there she met the love of her life and her husband to be, Connie, and they had two daughters. Tragically Connie passed away the same day John F. Kennedy was shot, on November 22, 1963.

Some 53 years later, and now at 83, she is still the sharpest, most entertaining, intelligent and loveliest person to be around.

Whenever I return home, I know the drill, especially on a Saturday night. We'll sit in front of a roaring fire, as we watch one of her favourite musicians, Andre Rieu, perform, with the volume turned up, or one of her favourite programmes, The Cube.

Sometimes it could be a thriller until two in the morning, or a racier drama. She has wide-ranging tastes and can always sense my restlessness when Fair City comes on. ‘Head away now, I'd say the fire is making you tired,’ she'll say.

Every day she reads the Irish Independent from cover to cover and knows more about national affairs than most. And of course she buys the Leader.

“All the words,” she'll say, marveling at all the articles.

And she's still full of questions and curiosity in her eighth decade. ‘How's the job? Is it very tough? Is your flat warm enough?' Is he the one?’

She loves plying anyone who comes into the house with a biscuit, or a slice of cake, or something stronger. If I protest at her giving my boyfriend three bars of chocolate in one go, she'll give a wink and say: “Leave him alone, you can boss him when you go back to Limerick”.

Naturally, as a consequence others love her too.

She is the only person who can make you feel like a million dollars, even if you're feeling down, and every outfit you wear on a night out will be admired even more generously than the last.

“That's the nicest thing I've seen on you,” is one frequent refrain. You could put on half a stone or more, and instead nan will ask, in all sincerity, “Have you got shook?”

She has a tendency to come out with some great one liners, and one has become a perennial family favourite. During several Christmas dinners, she would sit down at the table and say “Do you know when that would be nice? Tomorrow!”

It's said, in the contributions below, that no one will love you more than your mother. 

But a grandmother too will take on your joys and sadness and feel them as deeply as if they were her own.

“The candle will be lighting. I'll be thinking of you,” I have often heard as I walk out the door, reluctantly closing it behind me.  

To me, she's a legend in her own lifetime, my hero, my nan. I salute her, my own mother, and all the other mothers who are featured in this piece, who deserve to be recognised and loved on this Mother's Day and all the other days of the year.


‘My mother Anne, the real storyteller in the family’

Donal Ryan, award winning author

ONE of my earliest memories is of being in her arms, tracing the letters of the alphabet onto a square of sunlight on the living room wall. I remember the thrill of getting them right, revelling in her praise. I’d spell out words I was stuck on when reading and she’d pronounce them and explain them. Our house was always full of books.

My mother is tough, in all the best senses of that word. When she was a child she’d cycle her bike along the wall of the bridge between Ballina and Killaloe. The parish priest would pray for her from his window. She grew up on a farm in Kilmastulla, with five brothers. She’s afraid of nobody. My mother tells stories like nobody else. She’d have you in knots. She sees straight through waffle.

My sister Mary inherited her talent as a raconteur and her supernatural ability to look past the exterior of people and right into their hearts.

My mother pulls no punches. If she thinks something needs to be said, she says it. She won’t butter anyone up. So praise from her is precious. I’ve learned how to read her reactions to my work; she mightn’t extol its merits if she likes it but I’ll know by a certain smile and the quality of her thoughtful silence that she likes it.

Sometimes I’ll see her reading something a second and third time and I feel a really childish kind of happiness. She loves my father’s poetry too, but she doesn’t always let on.

She listens to people, really listens. That’s rare. Sometimes the queue at her till in Tesco in Nenagh gets out of hand; people love talking to her. She has perfect empathy and a wicked sense of humour.

She’s brilliant, quick as a bullet. A group of American tourists once asked her for directions to the Burren. Why would ye want to go there? she asked - All that’s there is an oul thistle on top of a rock!

My mother is generous beyond belief. She has a massive heart. She lives for her family. One of her proudest moments was my brother John’s passing out parade at the Garda College in Templemore last year. He’s very like her, strong, loyal, full of integrity.

She made us who we are. We’re so lucky to have her.


‘My mum was my rock,’ says Labour deputy, Jan O'Sullivan

MY mother, Pat Gale, was caring, strong and socially engaged; qualities that I hope I have been able to carry on in my life. She grew up on a farm in North Tipperary and moved to Limerick as a teacher where she met my father. They got married and bought an old house in Clonlara that had neither electricity nor running water and a roof that had to be replaced.

They didn’t have a car or a TV set until I (their youngest child) left school. My father Ted was a journalist who cycled the six miles to work in Limerick and, like most women at that time, she stayed at home to care for my brother and myself, only going back to work when I went to secondary school.

It was only when I got older that I realised how difficult that must have been for my mother but she rose to it and all other challenges in her life with enthusiasm and resilience. She built a happy home, gave us a love of nature and the countryside, books and sport, a belief in ourselves, a strong commitment to the importance of education and to community engagement.

My mother welcomed everyone to the house with open arms; the front door was nearly always propped open, children came in to see the fishpond and women to talk through their problems. There was a lot of laughter. She helped to found a local guild of the ICA, got involved in producing plays and in community causes.

Understanding of difference and a sense of social responsibility were qualities she instilled in me.

Still in her 50s when my father died, Mammy never gave in to loneliness and kept the door open to neighbours, friends and, later, the grandchildren she loved, well into her 80s.

My mother was a rock in my life and I know how fortunate I am to have been raised and guided by such great parents.


‘Bridie, 95, is my biggest fan and my biggest critic,’ says Myles Breen, actor

My mother Bridie is my biggest fan and my biggest critic. She met my dad Myles when she was 36, after his first wife sadly died, and she inherited a ready made family I guess, with six kids, and then I came along and my brother John.

She's very proud of us all, but she'll never let anyone get a big head. She'll say to me about my brother John in New York, "John is doing very well', and she'll say to John, "Myles is doing very well", but never to our face. I think it's a typical Irish mother thing.

She'll still ask me what time I came in in the morning. I'd often say I don't know. 'Four in the morning,' she'll reply, and she'll ask the question even if she knows the answer ready.

When I told her they'd asked me to be grand marshal for the St Patrick's day parade in Limerick this year, she said: 'Why did they pick you?'

Years ago I did a show, Pinocchio down in Cork, and I asked her about the show afterwards. She complimented everyone and everything, and when I asked her about my performance, she said: "Sure you were just being yourself!"

She's 95 now and up until recently she was swimming nearly every day. She'd tell me she'd meet people from the gym on the street but often didn't recognise them with their clothes on.

She worked hard all her life, and when she retired she developed a lot of new interests, like the active retirement club in St Joseph's parish and the walking club.

She led the walking club in the St Patrick's day parade in 2006, and just took off at a lick and left them all behind her.

She would drag us, myself and John especially, to everything - she is hugely into theatre and dance, from the Cecilians, Torch Quarry Players to the Viennese boys' choir.

Both myself and John went on to college to do 'real degrees', as they say, but we both returned to theatre, and both parents were incredibly supportive of that.

She was born in the Limerick Chamber of Commerce, as her parents were caretakers there, and as a single woman she ran her own business, the Cecil Street hotel, back in the 1940s and 50s.

As kids we were dragged around the country to catering events that my parents were in charge of, and were given the simple enough job for a child of collecting teaspoons.

She has always been a very stylish lady, never throws anything out, and in particular for a penchant for colourful, sparkly tights. She doesn't really have any vices, except for Kit-Kats.

A lot of her own clothes and furniture often end up on the stage, and in Language Unbecoming A Lady (Myles' hit play), I wore her pink dress on stage. She was quite happy that it got an extra wear.

She now lives in Henry Street Mews, or as she calls it still the McMahon Timber yard. We grew up on the South Circular Road and there were great families there, and in a way we were reared by the whole road. It was a fabulous community to grow up in.

At times we fight like cats and dogs, and when I say to her 'Will you stop arguing? she'll say at least it's a sign of life.

Even now she'll say 'Don't be going out with wet hair', 'What did you eat today?' You're always going to be five years old to your mother.


'I think about her every single day,’ says Laura Ryan, communications officer, Limerick City and County Council

My mum Kay Ryan, Ballykeeffe, Dooradoyle, died suddenly 11 years ago this week. I think about her every single day.

She was great fun, bright, vivacious and full of life so it was a big shock when she was diagnosed with cancer and died within a few weeks of that diagnosis back in February 2005.

A member of the Voices of Limerick choir she was always singing around the house and I have great memories of her preparing meals in our family kitchen constantly humming a tune to herself.   

As a teenager, she would never sleep until she heard my key in the door as I tried to sneak home inconspicuously after a late night.

While I was a student in Galway, I would open my rucksack on a Sunday night to find she had secretly packed it with goodies and treats for the week ahead. 

She bought a daily copy of every newspaper I ever worked in just to see my articles and would constantly remind me to always do the right thing even when no-one was looking.  …To say please and thank you, dance my own dance and sing my own song.   

She died around Mother’s Day so for a long time I used to hate seeing cards and flowers in the shops and hearing ads on the radio for gift ideas. I was angry that I lost my mother in my twenties, when she still had a lot of living to do and I wasn’t ready to lose her.

I still have a lot of questions I wished I asked her.

When I had my children, I really missed not having her around to ask about teething, high temperatures, sick babies at 3am or just tell me I was doing an ok job.

I miss that she never got to see her grandchildren who I know would have been a great source of joy to her.

And it’s only after she died that I realise and fully appreciate all that she did for me and my sisters.

Now I’m a mum, it’s nice that Mother’s Day has a new meaning for me.

And while I’ll still be sad I won’t get to spoil my mum this Sunday, I’ll be looking forward to a little sticky hand thrusting a handmade glittery card in my direction.

My mum used to say no one will ever love you like your mother. And like all mums, she was probably right.


‘My mother is my best friend,’ says Petula Martyn, reporter with Morning Ireland, RTE

The older I get the more I rely on my mother, Pauline. She is always there at the end of the phone, to listen to good news and bad, apart from when she says, ‘OK, I've no more news’, and I can hear the theme tune of Coronation Street starting in the background.

Nobody thinks I’m as great as my mother does. I would love to be as good or as capable as the person she sees in me. 

She once told me she named me Petula “because I knew you would be someone special.” Have you ever heard the likes of that?! And so, I spend a good part of my day spelling my name to people over the phone. It’s a unique name, I’ll give her that.

We once travelled to New York together and going through customs, the American customs officer asked if we were sisters. My mother was elated! It was the highlight of her trip. We could have flown home there and then, and she would have been happy. Ten years later, and she still talks about it.

I’m very grateful that I have such a close relationship with my mother. I love hanging out with her, she's great fun. I can tell her anything and she doesn't judge me, even when I’m judging myself. She’s my best friend. Happy Mother's Day, Mam!


Eva Birdthistle, portrait photographer

MY mother, Eve Bird, is my inspiration. Like most she has experienced highs and lows, but throughout it all, she has fought to keep her chin up. She will allow her herself about five minutes of feeling down and then says, 'I’m not going down that road'.

She embraces life and lives every day to the best she can. For her 70th birthday she got her first tattoo, something she had wanted forever. At 74 she became a shareholder in my family’s business.

At 77 she took on the roll of Lady Captain at her local golf club and at 78 she asked me to photograph her - boudoir style! Not only did she rock the shoot but she also asked me to show clients her images to inspire them that it’s never too late to do what you want.'

'It's only as a mother myself that I realise all she did for us'


Daughters’ tributes to Jo Hanley, Clareview

MY mum Jo Hanley, from Clareview, is a giver. She has been a giver all her life, with her love, time, friendship and care to everyone.

She has three daughters, eight grandchildren and one great grandson and all of the children adore her and love spending time with her. She has been married for 50 years and lives in the same house she came to as a newlywed.

My mum learnt to drive when she was 40, taught herself how to use a laptop so she can book her holidays - which are many. She still has the ability to shock her children with her wicked sense of humour and her selection of jokes! Dare you take a photo with the milk carton on the table!

My mother is someone you look at and marvel at how much she gets done during a day when I struggle just to do the hoovering. She can mind my kids and still have my house spotless when I get home. She can effortlessly put together a dinner for 16 people at the drop of a hat and not bat an eyelid. She has the coldest hands that make the best pastry and her apple tarts are legendary!

It's only now as a mother myself that I realise all she did.

Everyone loves their mother and thinks she is the best and I'm no different. As a child I used to think my mammy was magic because she could fix everything, find everything and do anything. Last week she lost her life long friend and my sisters and I want to tell her how much we love and adore her and appreciate all she has done for us. Happy Mother's Day Mam!

Love from your daughters Denise, Carol & Gwen