Meet our 2018 MOTYA winners
Our Gamechanger Mum - Muireann Quinn
Nominated by daughter Roisin
“I’ve only ever wanted to be a mammy. I wasn’t eligible but I thought that’s not right so I thought to talk to someone,” says Muireann Quinn (aged 63 from Stoneybatter, Co Dublin). e mum of Roisin (16) and Sadhbh (19) tells me that she’d wanted to adopt, but back in the early nineties this wasn’t possible because she was single. “At the time I thought, this is very unfair. Then I thought I’d get a solicitor and challenge it.”
Muireann has been a nurse for 45 years (recently retired), she volunteers with St Vincent de Paul Sunshine House and visits Lourdes as a volunteer nurse. Prior to adopting her girls she went to Africa to help victims of the Ethiopian famine. “I was in the feeding stations, when Ethopia had the bad famine, it was shortly after that. I was working with Ethiopians, just inside the border of Sudan.”
Being a nurse, she said it was a bit awkward when she took her case against the Eastern Health Board challenging adoption eligibility rules as this was the same board employing her. Persisting she says, “I was determined.” Muireann was successful, changing the rules which now allow single people to adopt. No mean feat. However, this was only the first step towards bringing her girls home. She had to be assessed as suitable and eligible, then came much paperwork and waiting. “I got it done, sent it off to China and waited and waited and the adoption board, they got a fax from China to say they had a baby for me. She was ten-months-old. I went into the adoption board that day and I saw a picture and I fell in love.”
On meeting her eldest Sadhbh she says, “It was like I was in dreamland.” Fast forward a few years and she says, “I always wanted more than one child and I thought... I’ve a big heart and we’ll go again.” This time she to travelled to Vietnam to bring home Roisin. Muireann says that she feels so blessed to have her two girls. “There’s a lovely poem I said at both of their Christenings. ‘You are not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone, you did not grow below my heart you grew within it.’”
Her love is summed up by Roisin who wrote, “Most parents won’t even go to the school to collect their children but my mammy went to the other side of the world to get me.”
Our Local Hero Mum - Kay Ryan
Nominated by son Michael
“I’m just an ordinary mother, no more than less than anything else,” says Kay Ryan (aged 82 from Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath) when I inform her she is one of our finalists – son Michael has asked we don’t let her know she’s a winner until the day, surprise Kay!
Mother of five to Deirdre, Clodagh, Michael, Bernard and Ruth, and grandmother to ten, son Michael says, “She is there for us at every turn.” Not content with being there for the family, she’s also spent her life working in the family’s hardware store, volunteering and helping people of all ages in her local community. Originally from Dublin she moved to Westmeath when she married and says volunteering helped her to, “get to know the community... and to get to know people.”
Kay went to college for the first time ever aged 75 when she gained a diploma in Community Studies from NUI Galway, “I had my student card and all the rest of it which was fun!” After this, and ten years running a Sue Ryder shop, she set up a charity shop in Kilbeggan called Bargain Corner, which has been running for seven years and has raised about €100,000, “Kilbeggan never had a charity shop and... I took a chance on it.”
She has continued her education with Active Retirement computer classes and is a whizz on WhatsApp and Skype, keeping in contact with children and grandchildren around the world. Michael says that Kay has also positively affected the community in her relationship with him. In his nomination he said, “She voted Yes in the Marriage Equality referendum, supporting me her gay son. She will proudly stand by as I marry my life partner of 20 years later this year. She has always accepted me for who I am.”
“I can’t understand anybody who doesn’t,” says Kay, “I cannot understand parents turning against their children... the only sad part I found was that he couldn’t have told me sooner... We had a little cry here, not because he was gay but because he didn’t tell me sooner.”
Michael said in his nomination that, “The positive example of acceptance of me has proved inspirational to other families to do likewise and this has been a comfort to other local gay people who tell me that their mother took solace from the support and guidance she had from my mother.”
This is something that Kay wasn’t aware of but says that she is glad to have made a difference. “There are gay [people] around that haven’t come out and that must be tremendous frustration for them, it’s so sad.”
Our Generational Mum - Stefani Howlett
Nominated by husband Eamonn
“My life is good, it’s for living,” says Stefani (aged 43 from Shankill, Co Dublin) as we chat about her busy, busy life. Mother of six children, ranging from 27 to four, and grandmother to two boys, until very recently there were 10 people living in the Howlett household.
“If I was to stand back and admire what she’s done, I’d be flabbergasted,” wrote Eamon in his nomination and the judges were inclined to agree. Not only does Stefani take care of her offspring and grandsons, she also is very close to her mum and grandmother, the latter of whom she describes as ‘her inspiration.’
Life hasn’t been easy, however. Aged 38 and just after she gave birth to son Robin, Stefani was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy, a very rare condition. It took two years for Stefani to feel healthier and well.
“When I presented at A&E, they didn’t know what was wrong with me and sent me home. I couldn’t breathe and my diaphragm was filling with fluid. I nearly had to have a heart transplant but thankfully a lot of prayer, a lot of candle lighting, my heart started to make a bit of a recovery so I’ve been able to get on with my life again which is fabulous.”
Stefani set up PPCM, a support group for women affected by the condition and is trying to raise awareness. She also volunteers for the Heart Failure Patient Alliance. She recently started working as a receptionist in Loughlinstown Community Rooms and loves it. Firmly believing that life is for the living, she says, “You just don’t know what’s around the corner. I never, ever thought, especially just after having a baby, I never thought that something like that could kill you. It really opened my eyes. The fact that I’ve gotten to see Robin to four and hopefully bigger, it’s not all doom and gloom when you get a diagnosis. If you look at it that way, you’ll never get better.”
In the middle of five generations of hardworking women, Stefani’s love for life and dedication to the other generations made her a clear winner.
Our Female Founder - Gina Cassidy
Nominated by husband Morgan
Having three children under the age of four and going from two careers to a fledging startup business was something that Gina (aged 38 from Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin) faced with tremendous aplomb. In 2015, she left her role as a HR Director in a management consultancy to start Purcell & Woodcock, a range of home fragrance products that she describes as a ‘usable luxury.’
“We save all our luxuries for a rainy day and I thought there was something that had all the nice bits that come from a luxury product but it was something you could buy for yourself. There was all the aspirational brands and they’re lovely to receive as a gift but they’re not something you’d buy yourself and light on a Monday night.”
After husband Morgan’s business folded, they joined forces, as he looked after sourcing, distributing and shipping. The brand is now stocked in around 100 stores in the UK and 200 in Ireland and it’s just launched into House of Fraser, its first department store stockist.
“It’s lovely to walk in and see it amongst all the aspirational brands,” says Gina. “That’s the first time I’ve let myself say, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ Up until now you never think you’re good enough, you’re afraid to believe you’ll make it.”
Mum to Max, Juliet, Sebastian and Jake, the Purcell & Woodcock brand is closely linked to family in all its collections. The company employs four full-time staff and Gina says they’ve never really had the time to reflect on the brand’s success which is now focusing on online sales.
“When I look back, we have through hard work, blood, sweat and tears, created something so I hope we can keep it going.” This business drive is also on top of a malignant melanoma diagnosis just days after her daughter’s birth, a year before the company began.
“That was when I was working around the clock and it was times like that when you go, ‘What’s important here? Quality time with your family or working to earn silly money that you don’t get to spend?’ I’d wanted to do something myself and that was a warning, thankfully I was a lucky one who got a warning and got a chance to get myself well again.”
Our Social Entrepreneur - Laura Steerman
Less than eight months ago, Laura (aged 36 from Sandyford, Dublin 16) left her job as a regulatory solicitor, an industry in which she’d been working for a decade, to set up QuaintBaby Ultrasound Art, a service that offers families paintings based on a photo of a baby’s ultrasound scan. Paintings can be completed, framed and mounted within weeks.
“I’ve been into arts and crafts ever since I was a kid,” says Laura. “Really after having my first I really realised, ‘Why am I doing this job?’ I don’t love it. It was very interesting and exciting and of course, well paid, but it really made me question being away from the kids and what that was worth and it just drove me to try new ideas. I kept at it because it was meaningful, it was enjoyable, I could do it in my spare time after a day in the office and the feedback was brilliant.”
She began by painting her own daughter’s scans after several reduced movement scares. Fortunately, all was well but the moment of being told things were fine stayed with Laura.
“The reassurance we got was wonderful. You think the worst but you hear everything’s okay,” she explains. “I had paints around and it just felt right.”
From doing one to five paints a month, the mum of two daughters and a son is now working on a few hundred per month. “Each one is so important and I still give the same amount of time to do as when it was a hobby.
“It’s become part of the pregnancy story: how that scan goes, how you’re feeling and the feelings it represents. So quickly after having kids you’re into the world of picking buggies, feeding them, clothing them, you kind of forget being pregnant. It just seemed that it resonated with a lot of people.”
Commissions have come from around the world and are reflective of the differing forms of pregnancy including surrogacy. Well received, Laura gives back through a collaboration with Irish charity Féileacáin, that supports parents bereaved before or shortly after birth. A percentage of every painting sold through their website stays with Féileacáin as a donation.
Our Inspirational Mum - Heather McGrath
Nominated by cousin Bernie
Heather McGrath (87 from Geashill, Co Offaly) was worried when her cousin Bernie Gorman Paid her a visit: “Bernie rang me to say she was coming up and I said, ‘I hope there’s nothing wrong...” says Heather.
In fact, Bernie was there to deliver the news that Heather was one of this year’s Mum of the Year winners. Bernie nominated Heather because Heather looked after Bernie’s family when Bernie’s mum passed away. However, Heather says that it was never something she did for praise. “I enjoyed it immensely going down to them. I never minded it. I can’t say that I did,” says Heather.
Heather cycled three miles every day to clean and cook for Bernie’s family and then, once she was done, she returned to her own family and did it all again. In total, she was looking after 17 children. “One daughter used to get on to me that I was never at home during the day. Well they were in school at that time anyway. But she used to say to her, ‘Well, just look at it this way – you have me in the morning, you have me at night and they haven’t got their mother at all,’” says Heather.
Very sadly, one of Heather’s daughters passed away suddenly when she was just 17 and her husband died in 1999. It wasn’t long after this that tragedy struck again and Heather’s oldest son passed away. Coping with all this loss was hard and Heather says: “I think myself after the first shock it makes you a little bit hard. I think it does. Another shock after that won’t come the same to you. That’s the way it was for me. I think what helped me at the time was looking after the Gormans.”
Before her son passed away, himself and Heather enjoyed trips to Medjugorje where they started raising money for an orphanage. Heather still raises money and returns every year.
“We started bringing out clothes to them. Then it got that you couldn’t bring out clothes and I started collecting up money. I’d do a raffle and sell a few tickets and do different things – collect up a few pounds and bring it out and give it to them. Every year now since then I’ve been doing it.”
Bernie tells us that Heather is an inspiration and it is due to her work for her family and her community that she has been chosen as our Inspirational Mum of the Year.
Our New Mum - Laura Quigley
Nominated by mum Caroline
When asked how it feels to have won New Mum of the Year, Laura Quigley (28 from Mountmellick, Co Laois) says: “I suppose overwhelmed is the only word I can think of and very surprised because, although I was put into a very unusual situation, it became my normal very quickly.”
Laura, who is mum to Eugene (11 months), was nominated by her own mum Caroline, who tells us that when Laura became pregnant in 2016, she had a very difficult journey. Laura suffered from pre-eclampsia and on July 27 2017 she gave birth to baby Eugene. Sadly, shortly after Eugene was born, his health went downhill very fast.
“From there, the next four-and-a-half months were just horrific,” says Laura. Eugene, who was just a few days old, began vomiting and having issues with his stomach. “At this stage we were transferred to the special baby care unit and they took scans. They sent those scans to Crumlin and once a consultant in Crumlin saw his scans, they said, ‘That baby needs to get into an ambulance and he needs to be brought to us.’”
Eventually after many intrusive tests, Eugene was diagnosed with Hirschsprung Disease – a very rare illness that affects only one in every 5,000 births. Hirschsprung Disease affects the bowels, causing the large intestine to lack the nerve cells needed to expel waste normally from the body. Sadly, as rare as his condition was, Eugene was also diagnosed with one of the worst versions of the illness.
“It was never on our radar. I had never even heard of Hirschsprung Disease,” she explains.
In order to bring Eugene home, Laura had to learn how to carry out an invasive procedure on him for his wellbeing. Once Eugene was well enough, he also had to undergo major surgery at Crumlin Children’s Hospital. The surgery required the removal of over 38cm of Eugene’s intestine. Thankfully, since his surgery, Eugene is doing much better.
“He’s such a great patient, we’re just so lucky with Eugene that he’s so resilient and he’s so patient. I’m so proud of how good he’s been through all of this.”
Laura is currently fundraising for the Crumlin Medical Research Foundation in a bid to give something back for the wonderful care her son received. “I feel like even if I raised a million euros it would never be enough. I could never say thanks enough for how well Eugene is doing. I just feel like we owe them everything.”
Our Social Media Mum - Trina Keane
Nominated by daughter Katie
“For something like this to turn up, it’s just lovely,” says Trina Keane, the 2018 Social Media Champion, and the 57-year-old from Foxrock in Dublin has used the platform to open up a new world to women like her.
For Trina, who has four daughters - Louise, Gillian, Sonia and Katie and two grandchildren, Isabella and Jacob – being a mum meant giving her girls the opportunity to find what made them happy and ‘backing that up for them.’
“Allowing them evolve as the people that they are, that’s the privilege of being a parent; to allow more human beings to have the opportunity to reach their potential and be as great as they can be.”
As she didn’t work in the ‘so-called formal workplace’ Trina was in a position to look after both of her parents before their passing and she’s grateful this is something she was able to do. However, after her mum died Trina began to have the realisation that this was the time for her to focus on herself.
“I realised that there’s a whole world of women my age out there who have no idea how to begin again I suppose or even that they could,” she says. “I came across a wonderful programme the Danielle Report programme in Canada and I loved that so much, I got the licence to actually run workshops in that.”
And so an online community called UpStarts was born. Trina says this is about “taking everything that you’ve been and everything that you are, breaking out of the chrysalis and doing whatever it is that you want to do.”
As well as running month-long programmes on the back of this, Trina has a monthly slot on Sunshine 106.8 this year where she sets themes, such as humour and new beginnings, for listeners to practice each month. “Social media, when used properly, is an incredible tool,” says Trina. “There’s a whole world of bright ideas and wonderful things that you could be a part of.”
Our Transformational Mum - Deirdre O’Brien
Nominated by daughter Maeve
To transform signifies a change and that’s exactly what Deirdre O’Brien (54) from Clareview in Limerick, has done with her life. “I feel very humbled and absolutely stunned,” Deirdre says of learning that she had won. “I haven’t stopped beaming like a kipper since.”
Mum of two Deirdre is humble about the transformation she had made compared to where she was four years ago. After going through some personal issues which culminated around her 50th birthday, Deirdre decided to make some big changes.
“It took a few months to get back on my feet but what I learned from that time is to know your limits. It made me appreciate [life] and that’s why I say I’m 54 years young now. My brother died two years ago, that was a big wake up call for me,” she says adding that ‘life is not a rehearsal.’
Deirdre joined Slimming World and did very well but her physical appearance was, and continues to be, secondary to the health and wellbeing benefits she has gained from the experience. “I don’t want to be an oil painting or anything like that but you’re doing it for the feel good factor and to be honest the health factor,” she says.
Prior to her lifestyle overhaul, numerous bouts of pneumonia resulted in Deirdre developing asthma and the long-term effects of this began to impact all areas of her life. “I was getting old before my time in a sense, all of that is behind me now and that in itself is very freeing.”
Feeling good has had a tremendous effect on Deirdre’s overall mood and now she faces every day with more confidence and self- worth than she’s ever had before. “I do feel in a good place, not that I was in a bad place, but we’re inclined to run on steam the whole time, we think it’s never going to run out. I’m a great believer in positive affirmations because they’re all true, we need to uncomplicate things,” she says.
“Your health is your wealth so take stock because life is short and remember to laugh; you can’t beat it.”
Overall Mum of the Year Finalist - Breeda Kerley
Nominated by daughter Camille
Breeda Kerley (67) was ‘stunned’ upon hearing she was a finalist in the Overall Mum of the Year category at this year’s awards and now the mum of five and grandmother of three, from Ballynanty in Limerick is thrilled to have been nominated by her daughter Camille.
“I’m delighted to think about what they thought,” she says. “I’m very proud of them.”
Breeda, who was ‘one of 16’ children growing up and acts like a mother and granny to anyone who comes to visit, cooks for her family two nights a week, still enjoys the odd night out, and continues to work part-time.
“I’m a cleaner in Luigi’s [Traditional Fish and Chips] in Parnell Street in Limerick, even though I’m of the retiring age,” she says. “I love the company and I love what I do. A lot of people think I’m mad [to be] still working, but I enjoy it.”
In her nomination Camille touchingly described how her mum ‘selflessly put her life on hold’ to be there whenever her children needed her the most.
“It’s just your instinct, isn’t it? It’s just something you have to do when you’re a mother,” Breeda says. Over the years Breeda and her family have become a support system for one another, especially when her husband sadly passed away from cancer 11 years ago.
“He was diagnosed in February 2007 and he died on June 25 of that year,” she says, adding that she managed to pick up the pieces thanks to her children. The family were ‘just back on their feet’ when Breeda herself was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2011.
“I was suffering with gallstones myself for years and I was losing weight rapidly,” Breeda says of her symptoms before her cancer was discovered. “If you are going to beat it you have to have that positive [attitude]. A tumour on the pancreas is something that very few people have come through,” she says,” and the doctor was amazed.”
Last year Breeda was given the all clear and since then she takes each day as it comes.
“You just say a little prayer and hope it doesn’t reappear. I just get on with what I have to
Overall Mum of the Year Finalist - Jennifer Bannon
Nominated by her friend Ann
“I just can’t believe that this is happening to me. I’m still pinching myself,” says an ‘excited’ Jennifer Bannon (59) from Maynooth, Co Kildare, after hearing she was nominated in this year’s awards. e mum of four and grandmother of five has ‘weathered’ numerous challenges in her life yet she hasn’t let any of these hold her back.
When she made the decision to separate from her husband, raising her children on her own was ‘tough’ but the right choice for their happiness and wellbeing. “I just wanted them to have a happy life to have a good start,” she says adding that being a mum brings so much joy to her life. "My children are quite close because it’s just been me and them. It’s great [to see their bond]."
‘Trying to mind everybody except myself’ is what Jennifer says led to her suffering some health concerns after her daughter got married. “Everything just got on top of me and the doctor said, ‘You’re only one person you know, if you don’t look after yourself you can’t look after anybody.’”
Ann notes that over the years she has managed to ‘turn some very negative experiences into positive action.’ In recent years Jennifer returned to education, completing a Level 5 Community Addiction Studies course in Ballyfermot, and she now works with families afflicted by addiction.
“Now I’m doing a Community Employment scheme in the Family Support Network,” she says. “It’s a pleasure because I meet a lot of women through them, coming into the office.”
An ‘avid walker’ Jennifer has always been passionate about keeping fit and healthy as her own mother died when she was only 25. “She had suffered really badly with arthritis, I never wanted to have that so I took up all the sports I could, including walking,” she says.
“I just completed the Camino de Santiago in April, I did it all on my own.” Over the years Jennifer has walked hundreds of miles in order to raise funds for the Irish Heart Foundation, her way of ‘giving back’ for the fantastic care her father received when he was ill.
Our Overall Mum of the Year - Ruth Russell
Nominated by her husband Keith and children Fate, Riordan and Harry
“Mammies do what mammies do, don’t they? And they don’t really look for awards. It’s just what you do. You become a mammy and you’re just a mammy. I’m no good at interviews am I?” laughs this year’s Mum of the Year Ruth Russell (39) from Navan, Co Meath.
Nominated by her husband Keith and children Fate (15), Riordan (12) and Harry (5), Ruth’s family writes that their lives “changed dramatically” when Ruth gave birth to twin daughters, Alanna and Isabelle, in 2009. Very sadly, Isabelle passed away before birth and Alanna was delivered by an emergency section.
“It was the happiest and saddest day of my life. Very mixed emotions. I didn’t know where my heart was supposed to be. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be extremely sad or extremely happy... my heart broke that day,” says Ruth.
While deep in grief over the loss of their daughter Isabelle, another blow was delivered when Alanna was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Understanding that her daughter would need full-time care, Ruth quit her job.
“She didn’t really want much to do with other people when she was born so for four years I just carried her on my hip day and night. We’d peel the spuds together, we did the washing, we did everything. She just stayed on my hip... She couldn’t walk or talk, [but] she still had a massive personality... She had my heart from the day she was born but she won the hearts of everyone and she never spoke a word. It was just incredible. She could never say thank you or happy birthday. She could never say anything but you just knew by her.”
In their nomination, Ruth’s family writes that Ruth became ‘Alanna’s interpreter and her eyes and ears’ and that the two shared a very special bond. “Alanna was just my life along with my other children and my husband. You couldn’t go out. I had no social life. My friends kind of dwindled over the years because I couldn’t interact with them. Alanna wouldn’t accept people near her or looking at her. I couldn’t go shopping. We just stayed together the two of us. That’s what we did and we got by. I was her bed, her plaything, her feeder, her love giver and I was her world for a long time.”
Last year, Ruth’s husband Keith decided to do the Dublin City Marathon with Alanna in tow to raise money for the Meadows Respite Care Home in Navan that Alanna attended. They raised nearly €70,000 for the home. Ruth says that the day of the marathon was emotional.
“We took videos and everything of the kids. I have one video of the kids screaming at him [Keith – Ruth’s husband]. It was brilliant. It was a very emotional day.” Very sadly, on a cold morning last December, Alanna passed away very suddenly. She was eight-years-old. “It was a very big shock. I put her to bed and she was gone the next morning which is a shock because we never leave her,” says our 2018 winner.
When asked how the family is coping now, Ruth is honest. “I get up every morning and I breathe. My children, the other three, still have to have their lives. I’m trying to help them through it now and someday I’ll get myself through it. Harry [Ruth’s youngest child] still looks for her continuously, but she’s gone to heaven.”
To commemorate Alanna’s amazing life, the family is organising a ‘forever 8’ memorial run later this month. Keith tells us that in organising the race, Ruth is not thinking of her own grief but thinking of Alanna and the grief shared by their community.
When asked what Alanna taught her, Ruth tells us that her daughter taught her who she was and who she could be. “I tell you something, you learn more from your children than you can ever teach them. You really do. You try to teach them but they’re actually teaching you and you don’t even realise it. There were times with Alanna where initially I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and then she’d smile at me and it was like, ‘Of course I can, what am I thinking?’
“It’s not about money and it’s not about people seeing what you do. It’s about that smile you get and it’s about that little snuggle on the couch in the evening. My god, I miss that so much but I have Harry roped in now. I’m not going to bed without a snuggle off him.”
For her incredible strength, bravery and compassion, Ruth Russell is our 2018 Woman’s Way and Beko Mum of the Year.