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 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.