Posted by: christinelaennec | February 14, 2012


I came home yesterday feeling really happy after a meeting I’d had with some very nice people, but the moment I saw Michael’s face I knew something was terribly wrong.  He had just found out that his mother, Norah, had died suddenly and peacefully.  He’s allowing me to write a post about Norah, in tribute to her and now in memory of her.

She was born at the start of the Great Depression in Donegal, Ireland.  She was the youngest of seven children, and at the age of 21 she followed her sister to England in search of work.  They found not only work, but Polish husbands.  Others of their siblings scattered to America and Wales, leaving Michael’s Auntie Mia keeping the home fires burning in Donegal.

Norah and her husband Ivan (John) had a girl, and then my husband Michael, and then lo and behold their third child was triplets!  I always imagine John asking:  “Is it a girl or a boy?” and being told, “It’s a boy and two girls!”  This was in the days when such events were often complete surprises.  So Norah and John found themselves with five children under the age of five.  For that alone, I have long admired Norah.

In 1986, Michael and I planned a trip to Donegal.  When we learned that Norah hadn’t been back home for over 30 years, we decided to take her with us.  We travelled by bus to Swansea, by ferry to near Dublin, spent the night in Dublin, and took the bus North.  When we arrived in Donegal after two days of travel, we were warmly greeted by Mia – in the most impenetrable accent I’d ever heard!  It took me two days to get the hang of the lingo.

Everywhere we went with Norah there were whispers:  “It’s Norah the X!”  When we asked why she was called “the X” – my mind was racing – we were informed that her father, a cattle dealer, had been nicknamed “the X,” short for “the Extortioner”.  Mia told us how their father used to drive the cattle to “the low country” (the north coast of Donegal) where he would use Irish in his dealings.  “Daddy had lovely Irish,” we were told.  We heard another nickname for Norah too:  Mia, still very much the older sister, would call her “Wee Bella”.

Even in the pain of hearing yesterday’s news, Michael and I were laughing at memories of listening to Mia and Norah in their shared bed on that visit.  Norah:  “I think I’m going to be sick.”  Mia:  “Out! Get out now!”

Norah was so kind to me, and I will never forget how when we visited she would bring me a cup of tea in the morning.  She sent the children birthday and Christmas money, and magazines, even on her pension.  She always asked after me and the Dafter when she phoned Michael.

She was extremely camera-shy, so I have found very few photos of her.  Here she is in 2006, with a young Dafter and Michael:

Norah with Michael and the Dafter, 2006

Norah was a practising Catholic all her life, and had gone to the same church for 60 years.  When we found out a few days ago that she’d not been to church for a few weeks, we were concerned.  But the doctors were talking about perhaps fitting her with a pacemaker, and on Sunday they told Michael that they didn’t feel there was cause for great concern or a trip down.  However, the next day Michael’s sister recognised the signs and called the priest for last rites.  Very peacefully and quietly, Norah slipped away.  She joins Mia and others of her family in what I like to imagine as a happy reunion in heaven.

I salute you, Norah the X.  Thank you for being such a great mother, mother-in-law, and Granny.  Bless you.  Go mbeannaí Dia duit.




  1. Blessings to you and Michael and your families in this time of sorrow. What a lovely tribute to Norah, I am sure she is looking down kindly. My thoughts and prayers are with you all. xx

  2. Sad news, but a lovely portrait you paint. It is always fascinating to hear old nicknames in use and have to dig about to discover their origin. My father was “wee Murph” and I am almost certain he himself did not know it was a reference to his Irish heritage (Murphy being the most common surname in Ireland, and therefore if you were Irish you were “a Murphy”.)

  3. Tell Michael we are thinking of him – you’ve written a fine tribute Christine.

  4. That is indeed a lovely tribute to someone whose life sounds like it would have been pretty hard at times. She looks a very warm person in the picture.

    I have been thinking a lot about death and dying lately. It seems to me that her dying and death were close to ideal. Who wants to finish their life with years and years of gradual decline into complete dependence on others, and surrounded by strangers in a nursing home? Not my mother, and not me.

  5. What a lovely way to honor Norah’s life, Christine. How blessed you all were to be part of her family. I know you’ll miss her greatly.

  6. thinking of you and your family, my friend, at this difficult time. what a wonderful tribute you have written.

  7. I’m very sorry to read of your loss, but you’ve written a tribute full of warmth and affection and I enjoyed reading it.

  8. She sounds an amazing woman, and a very fitting tribute to her.

  9. I’m sad to hear of Norah’s passing, Christine. Sad for the loss to Michael, and you all. But you have written such an uplifting and happy tribute, and I’m sure these warm memories will be a true comfort in the difficult days ahead. Love, light and peace to you all.

  10. Give our love to Michael – and you are all in our thoughts and prayers Christine. What a lovely tribute to Norah, she sounds such a great and authentic person.. xxx

  11. What a lovely tribute and Norah sounds the sort of woman that my own grand mother would have gotten on with like a house on fire. Give my best wishes to Michael but he must be happy to know that his mum had a great life.
    Thinking of you xx

  12. Very sorry to read this, sounds like she was an amazing woman.

  13. I am so, so sorry to hear about your loss. What a precious gift Norah was to those who knew her. Know that I am thinking of you all and praying for peace for those who loved and cherished Norah.

  14. A lovely tribute.

  15. Dear everyone,

    Thank you so very much for all your condolences and kind words, from me and from Michael also.


  16. I send my sympathy to you all. She sounds like an amazing woman.

  17. What a beautiful tribute to Norah! My deepest sympathies…

  18. What a lovely tribute. I’m very sorry to hear of Michael’s sad loss, but how lovely to go peacefully with at least one child close by. Our thoughts are with you.

  19. Dear Sigrid, Dianne and Fiona,

    Thank you all very much. She was amazing and very funny too. I will really miss her.


  20. Christine, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. She sounded like a wonderful, special lady. Thinking of you all, love Tina xx

    • Thank you very much, Tina. Your comment means a lot to me.

  21. Dear Christine,

    My condolences to you and Michael on this sad loss. This is a lovely and warm tribute

    all the best,

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