Got out of bed on Monday May 25, 2009. Pulled back the curtains. Looked out into the silent streets of Mervue and noticed that Evelyn Foy’s car wasn’t there. It’s the kind of thing neighbours notice. Her mother is in hospital so I sent her a text to see if everything was alright. Her brother Sean phoned me to say the family had been called to the hospital at 7.00am because Julia had had a bad night.
I dressed fast and got there shortly after 8.30am, there being no traffic to speak of. The curtain was pulled around the bed, her four children gathered around her, boys on one side, girls on the other - Sean, Breege, Evelyn and Paugi. Julia’s head rested childlike against the side rail, protected by a folded brown blanket.
When I had seen her the previous day she talked with clarity about my Mother and Maura who were both dead by then, Maura ten years earlier. How much she wanted to see them. Then something slipped in her mind and clarity left once again, as it does.
We prayed. She participated, blessing herself frequently, continuing to pray alone after the rest of us had finished. “I’m convinced that God and the Blessed Virgin are coming to help me” she said, sounding a lot like my Mother in the lead-up to her death the previous year. She asked us to pray in Irish which we did and then we went to the corridor when the nurses came to change her bed.
One of her nephews went in when they had finished and she told him she didn’t want to see the priest (me) again. He told me this saying not to take it personally. I didn’t and at the same time I did! Maybe I had overdone the prayer as Mam used to tell me not to because she thought I would frighten the dying person.
So, I tiptoed in to get my book and holy oil.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Eamonn” I said.
“You’re not Eamonn! What did you do to your hair?” I told her it had gone white and said I would see her again. “Not here, I hope!” was her reply. And that was goodbye!
Julia lasted until the following Thursday morning. Sometimes agitated, sometimes peaceful. She even sang ‘Lady of Knock’ with one of her granddaughters.
For us Monsons it was moving to hear how often she spoke of Mam and Maura. She saw Mam standing at the foot of her bed one day and said, “I’m not ready yet Maureen!” I had the privilege of celebrating her funeral Mass on the lovely morning of June 1st.
With her another piece, a most precious piece of our Mervue history had slipped away, one of the first Parents, founders of Mervue, strong Mothers, foundation on which the spirit of Mervue is built. Much more has gone from us in the intervening ten years.
The first families moved into Parnell and Ceannt Avenues in 1956 when the roads were still rough gravel and Emmet Avenue was not yet finished. There were few cars, no buses. Our parents cycled to Mass in Castlegar or St. Patrick’s in town. Our Mothers walked the two miles to town pushing babies in big prams, pulling toddlers behind. Between Mervue and Moneenageisha there were open fields, with the exception of Cluan Mhuire, the Redemptorist Monastery.
There was scarcity and sharing on many levels in Mervue which was a very well planed council estate. Every house had front and back gardens, the latter being planted with vegetables.
The Kilgannons and Monsons already knew each other from O’Halloran’s Newcastle House where they rented flats back as far as 1952. Ours was one room which my Mother divided with curtains. Five of us lived there until we moved to Mervue just before Christmas 1956. Our families have lived near each other for more than 65 years. Next door to Kilgannon's in Mervue lives Angela McManus of the O'Halloran family and she is the unique holder of the story of life lived there and of the early years in Mervue.
In the Mervue of our childhood there was just one telephone for the whole of the estate, a public one down by the bus stop. It’s a pity it’s no longer there because it was the holder of a multitude of life stories – tragedies, romances, a connection with those who had moved abroad or to other parts of Ireland. Dial the operator, give the number you wanted to call, insert the required coins, press button A. Please! And if it went wrong you were instructed to press button B to reclaim your money. The phone box had its own aura, its own scent, the collective scent of all of us crowding in there together. The excitement of trying to get a word in before the money ran out. And the joy of discovering it was broken and you could somehow phone England if you wanted – for nothing!
And in the early years there was no television. We listened to the radio – the big old wireless, made of beautiful wood, with a light inside and a glass panel with the names of far away places written on it. For some reason I think of Hilversum and Helsinki. And I thought as a child that the people were inside. We graduated to a blue transistor when we were teenagers and used to listen to 208 Luxemburg, the only real source of pop music.
The first televisions came in the 1960’s – McCafferty’s and Dowling’s. We all piled into McCafferty’s of an afternoon and Margaret Dowling would leave the sitting room curtains open so that I could watch ‘Combat’ in silence from my bedroom!
And then everything came our way and we all grew up and went away and came back and went again. And some stayed, giving birth to new generations of Mervue. Happily, Kilgannon’s home is still occupied by Kilgannon’s, while Monson’s is mostly occupied by memory and sometimes by me!