Meet our 2017 MOTYA finalists and winners
Our 2017 Connaught finalists
From Cloonfad, Co Roscommon
Nominated by her sister Mairead Fitzpatrick
Joelyn had just become a mother for the third time when we got speaking to her. On the previous Friday she had welcomed baby Aoibhin to the family, joining her, dad Patrick and siblings Fionn and Sorch. Sister Mairead began her nomination by saying that Joelyn is a brilliant wife, mother and friend to all that know her.
After the death of Joelyn’s father in 1988 her mother had to work to keep the family business afloat so Joelyn “stepped up to the plate and became a second mother” to her three younger siblings, says Mairead. “I naturally stepped into it, I always loved minding kids,” says Joelyn.
She decided that this was the career path she wanted to follow and went to study Childcare in Portobello College in Dublin. “At the time childcare wouldn’t have been as popular as it is now. Dublin would have been the nearest to me. I loved it and I was determined to do it.”
When Joelyn returned home she initially got work in a few crèches then became a special needs assistant in the local national school in Cloonfad. “I was with a little boy with special needs and I was with him for four years. “I enjoyed the school and had a great experience as well.” But, she says, “I always had in my head to have my own crèche so I had that in mind as well.” At the age of 20 she began planning this and it took her four years to get her business off the ground. She opened Cuddles and Care in Cloonfad in 2007, aged just 24.
“There was so much, between getting planning to getting mortgages but I was determined to get it and I kept going until I got it. I’d have good determination.” That determination certainly shows in how passionate Joelyn is about childcare, Mairead describes it as her vocation, Joelyn agrees saying, “I love it, I really enjoy the job and I’m always trying to improve it and do new things. I think it’s a very rewarding job.”
In 2014 she returned to Galway University to do a four year part-time career in Early Childhood Education, and has just finished her third year. “I’d always be trying to improve it for the kids, make a better experience for children. The more education, the more we know the better, we’ll be able to support the kids.”
Welcoming a new baby, running a business and being at university she says, “It does at times be very tricky but I’ve great support from my family, my husband and the staff at the crèche.”
Kathy Harty Leo
From Knocknacarra, Co Galway
Nominated by her daughter Michela
You can hear the shock in Kathy Harty Leo’s voice when I manage to speak to her about her nomination in our Mum of the Year competition. “I’ve tears in my eyes, I’m so happy,” she says. Nominated by daughter Michela, who she describes as ‘‘my rock’’, Kathy, an office manager, has been through a lot in recent years but has managed to turn negatives in her life into huge positives. “She has done everything for us,” says Michela, “and we owe her so much.”
In 2011 Kathy’s marriage ended, “Part of the break up was the family home had to be sold. I didn’t have funds to purchase a new home, you can imagine how difficult that is. I found a rental accommodation and moved myself and the girls into that. I had to look after the sale of the house myself.”
Kathy says that it was a very difficult time, especially since it affected her two daughters Michela and Isabel. “It just hurt me, I felt I was letting them down by not providing this security.” Through hard work and a small legacy from her mother who passed away, Kathy was able to buy a small house two years ago. “I was fortunate to secure a mortgage... it’s a very small house but it’s ours.”
Once she had this part of her life sorted Kathy then looked at what she could do for herself. She never had the opportunity to pursue education in her younger years and it was something she always had a yearning to do. “I wanted to do something that would enable me to progress my career. The first step for me was going back as a mature student and doing an access course. Last September I started a course with NUI Galway, it was a Diploma in Foundation Business. I’ve just finished it in April... it’s basically to open the door for a degree.”
To get her diploma she not only worked full time but also did two nights a week in college and two in math grinds. “I was determined I was going to pass, by hell or high water. It was also important to show the girls the importance of getting a good education. I want them to see college isn’t something that you think about it’s something you have to do. I’m really determined that they get their education behind them. Me doing this showed them if I can do it they can do it.”
She says, “It was something for myself but anything I do for myself, improving my own life, it enables me to improve the girls’ lives.”
Our 2017 Connaught mum is Terri Golden
From Carton, Co Sligo
Nominated by friend Sheila Scanlon
The strength and tenacity of Terri Golden shone through in the entry made by her friend Sheila and we’re delighted to name her as our Connaught Mum of the Year 2017. Not only is she involved in her local community and charity fundraising but she’s fought on behalf of her daughter for access to life saving drugs for those with cystic fibrosis.
The past year has been unimaginably difficult for Terri and daughter Aisling as they lost their daughter and sister, Gráinne, aged just 21 in February 2016.
Gráinne had cystic fibrosis and Terri says, “My thinking was when Gráinne was born, please let her live. That was my thinking. Gráinne was born and she was just so small.” She adds that, “We didn’t expect her to live, Crumlin didn’t expect her to live, they didn’t even expect her to have her first operation. She was a fighter, a real fighter from birth, from day one.”
Terri herself took up the fight too, she says, “With cystic fibrosis it’s hour by hour day by day. They just go from one hour to the next hour. You just don’t think.” She ensured that Gráinne always received the help and support she needed in daily life. “I was always fighting for her, for one thing or another. She was extremely bright, but she did miss an awful lot of school so we did have to fight to get extra help. She was just like everybody else who has disabilities. All I can tell you, in Gráinne’s lifetime anything she wanted, it didn’t matter what it was, it didn’t matter what rules I had to break. If she needed something I did not take no for an answer.”
Terri says that after Gráinne’s death she and Aisling continued to fight for access to the Orkambi drug for those with CF and for opt out organ donation where the norm is that people opt out of organ donation instead of opt in. “The reason we got involved in the campaign was because she said three things to us before she died. at was one of the things she said to us, to continue campaigning for Orkambi and organ donation opt out... at was her final wish, she didn’t want us to give up, she didn’t want anyone to die like she died.”
She says, “this was her last wish, how could I let her down?” Terri did numerous interviews to raise awareness of this campaign, even appeared on The Late Late Show and Ray D’Arcy, she also stood outside the Dáil in protest.
“It was hard and it was hard campaigning outside the gates of, especially the second time we went up, in front of the Dáil. ere were young CF people out there with their wheelchairs, with their oxygen. I just found that horrendous to think that people who were so seriously ill have to go out and campaign. But we got there.”
In April this year Minister for Health Simon Harris committed to funding for Orkambi which will see those who need it able to access it and also drug Kalydeco for younger children. “That is huge. I know we had to wait a long time, I know we had to campaign hard, I know we had to push but what we got in the end was just amazing.”
Terri says she got her strength from both her daughters. “I can guarantee you that it wasn’t easy. But any time if I gave up Aisling was behind me, if Aisling gave up I was behind her. We, always in the background, could hear Gráinne saying, ‘suck it up and get on with it.’ Because that’s what she’d say, she was very vocal and blunt and straightforward. at’s what got her to the 21 years of age. She fought it from day one.”
When access to the drug was confirmed Terri says, “We were thrilled, it’s bittersweet really. We’re thrilled for all her friends. “The amount of her friends, CF friends, that have contacted us and said they’d been waiting for it.”
She adds, “ at will be Gráinne’s legacy, not just Gráinne, other CF campaigners. Loads of other people that have died campaigning. “It’s not just about our family, it is about Gráinne’s legacy but it is about what she wanted for her own CF friends. at they would have a chance in life.” However, understandably it has been tough for Terri who says, “You have your days, don’t get me wrong I’m no saint. But you just have to get up and put one foot in front of the other and start again.”
Right now she says that, “I’m taking a break after the major campaigning we did for Orkambi, but any time there’s anything about organ donation we’ve been out there.”
Our 2017 Munster finalists
From Mallow, Co Cork
Nominated by daughter Anne-Marie
“I seem to have got my share of it,” says Mary. “We could not accept it without being a close family. We couldn’t have done it without the support of one another, the help of one another. We keep one another going.”
Tragedy struck the Buckleys back in 2008 and it seems to have kept striking Mary and her family, ever since. The mum of seven and grandmother of five was nominated by her youngest child Anne-Marie who wrote, “words cannot describe the year we have all just been through.”
On becoming a finalist in the Munster category Mary was stunned to hear the news, as she had nominated her own daughter Audrey. “I didn’t expect that one because I had nominated my own daughter. Anne-Marie said, ‘Did you nominate Audrey?’ and I said, ‘Yes I did of course nominate Audrey’, then she told me, ‘I’m after nominating you.’”
Mary’s husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2015 and she, along with the help of her children, took on the role of his carer throughout his illness until he passed away in March 2016. “Fourteen weeks is what we got from when he was diagnosed,” says Mary. “I made doctors and nurses out of the seven I had here. They still say to me, ‘Thanks for bringing Dad home, we had the best nine weeks of our lives.’”
Mary is the type of person who will do whatever she can to help someone out. Along with visiting and looking out for elderly people in her locality she helps her daughter Audrey with childcare, while she is at work. Audrey’s sons Donncha and Conor both have special needs and Mary minds Conor while his older brother is at pre-school.
“Where I get the strength, I don’t know,” Mary says. Despite her own hardships Mary is constantly giving back to those around her and regularly raises money for charities that are close to her heart. To date she has raised €23,000 for charities such as the Mercy University Hospital Foundation, Suicide Aware and Bóthar, to name a few.
“I keep a little journal of what I do,” says Mary. “My next fundraiser is gong to be for St Joseph’s Foundation in Charleville [where Conor attends pre-school], they have no funding to look after our second little lad, I’ll do that, I have to get it off my conscience in some way.”
From Newmarket, Co Cork
Nominated by mum Mary
Mary Buckley (yes, the Mary Buckley from the opposite page!) has watched her daughter Audrey go through some very difficult times since her eldest son Donncha was born seven years ago and again when her second child Conor, who’s four years-old, came along. Both boys have special needs; they are non-verbal and have low muscle tone, conditions which effect them and their parents every day. Audrey says she wasn’t expecting to be nominated and had no idea until her mum told her the good news. “I didn’t know anything about it until she told me. I do what I do and I don’t see what Ido as anything very special. They’re my two boys and that’s it.”
Caring for her sons meant that Audrey was unable to work full-time as a primary school teacher and now job-shares a few days a week. Her mum Mary steps in and looks after Conor on the days that she’s at work and their relationship has become even stronger for it.
“Because of his needs I can’t just leave him with everybody, so my husband and I have relied on her an awful lot. I suppose we’ve gotten even closer because of the situation that we’re in,” says Audrey.
“They’re two great boys but their biggest and most obvious need is that both of them are non-verbal. They don’t talk at all, but they can get their messages across. To look at them they look absolutely perfect, which in a way makes it that bit harder. They’re not in wheelchairs, they’re both mobile enough. They’re very affectionate and they’re great friends, it’s just that with their extra needs there’s a bit of extra minding in them, I will say.”
Mary described her daughter as a “wonderful mammy” who smiles through it all in her nomination letter. “Audrey has to fight so much to get what the boys are entitled to and she is still denied the education they need especially little Conor.”
Both boys attend pre-schools for special needs children but while Donncha has managed to get five days schooling a week, Conor has only been given two. In an attempt to improve her son’s quality of life Audrey has contacted local media outlets and TDs, but she said it has done little to change the situation.
“There’s no funding they keep telling us. It gets very frustrating but we still fight the fight. Any parent does over and above for their children. You have to try and find the positive in everything, so we always say ‘it could be worse.’”
Our 2017 Munster mum is Rebecca Conlon
Nominated by her partner Anthony
When speaking to Rebecca Conlon the humble and modest way she accepts praise is truly admirable. These qualities and the many more she possesses are some of the reasons why she was crowned our Munster Mum of the Year.
The past seven years have been nothing if not turbulent for 39 year-old Rebecca and her family, yet the way she handles everything is testament to her strength as a person and as a mother. “Don’t get me wrong I definitely have moments of complete mini breakdowns and things, but I suppose I’ve always been somebody that is strong willed and stubborn as well, which in a way has probably helped me,” says Rebecca.
In 2010 Rebecca’s second child Adam was born. She and her late husband Jo already had a four year-old boy called Eamon. A relatively easy and complication-free pregnancy meant Rebecca couldn’t have suspected what was to follow. Call it a mother’s instinct but Rebecca knew intuitively that something wrong.
“My gynaecologist came in to check on me after the operation and asked how everything was going. I just burst into tears and said, ‘ ere’s something wrong with Adam and nobody will listen to me. I just want somebody to look at him.’ So she left the room and brought up a doctor,” Rebecca says.
It transpired there were major problems with Adam’s bowel and brain and his heart was working far too hard, meaning it could give up at any time. Faced with the prospect of losing her son Rebecca says something inside of her clicked and gave her strength. “I think at that moment, I was quite probably hysterical, I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to pull myself together now and to be strong, he needs me to be strong.’”
Adam was then transferred to Temple Street Hospital and for eight long months Rebecca and Jo rarely left his side. To this day she feels a huge amount of guilt about the effect this had on her eldest son at home. “You feel you’re torn between the sick child and the emotional child. They both need you in very different ways and you can’t be there for both unfortunately. As Eamon’s got older it’s a little bit easier because he understands more but he struggles with it now.”
Adam was diagnosed with Mowat Wilson Syndrome, a condition that affects 147 children worldwide, and came home in September 2010. By November he was back in hospital with breathing complications and it was during this time Jo suffered from headaches.
“We put it down to stress and tiredness, sleeping on hospital floors and all this kind of stuff. Once Adam had come out of hospital I frogmarched Jo to the doctor who made a referral for him to see a neurologist in Tralee.”
It turned out that Jo had a ‘massive tumour going across both sides of his brain.’ On December 23 he had surgery. “After the surgery they said ‘We have to wait officially for the biopsy results but I can tell you now it is a full-blown tumour, grade 4,’” Rebecca explains. “He said it was terminal.”
As Jo was still recovering from his operation Rebecca was unable to tell him the news until he was well enough and she says keeping this secret from him was one of the most difficult times in her life. She then took on the role of his full-time carer as Jo’s health deteriorated very quickly, whilst still doing everything for Adam. Rebecca wasn’t aware that she was entitled to help from the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, which turned out to be a huge relief as she explains, “I just naturally assumed, okay all of this stuff had happened, but he was my son and it was my responsibility to look after him. For the year that Jo was sick we had two fabulous nurses from Jack and Jill who were amazing with Adam.”
In 2011, just two weeks before Christmas, Jo passed away and Rebecca focused her attention on her boys. Today, she and her new partner Anthony have a three year-old son called Jake and the boys are her pride and joy.
When Eamon was struggling at school Rebecca pushed for him to get extra support every day and his results have improved considerably. To ensure Adam gets the support he deserves Rebecca regularly contacts the HSE management, writes to TDs in her local area and will even get in touch with the press.
She writes advice articles for Cliona’s Foundation, set up a Facebook page for the parents of the kids at Adam’s school and created a website and Parents Association. Rebecca raises money for Temple Street Hospital and set up a workshop for the siblings of disabled children. Rebecca says the only thing she wants is for her boys to be happy and calls motherhood the ‘best job in the world.’
Our 2017 Ulster finalists
From Carrowkeel, Co Donegal
Nominated by daughter Áine Rosemary’s daughter Áine was quick to extol her mother’s qualities – “her outgoing, fun and loving character,” and her “utterly selfless nature,” and her nomination caught the judges’ attention. at said, Rosemary is careful to tell Woman’s Way that she doesn’t believe herself to be a Superwoman. What is clear is she is a woman who cares deeply about her community and neighbours.
Rosemary’s cousin passed away aged 39 leaving two young children and Rosemary stepped in to help in any way she could. e same was said for two neighbours, both of whom passed away from illness. Again, Rosemary is modest about her involvement: “I didn’t think about not helping, they were my neighbours.”
Active in her community, ten years ago, Rosemary started a youth club on Monday and Friday evenings: “We started it up with 30 people up to 90 on a Monday, then 30 to 40 on a Friday,” she explains.
From there came summer and Easter camps which Rosemary runs with daughter Niamh. “Niamh would be doing the games and activities whereas I would be doing the arts and crafts, decorating buns with them, things like that,” says Rosemary.
Thoroughly invested in her community, she works along with husband Daniel – the couple will be married 30 years in August – who is the chairperson of the local community centre, to put money into the centre. is includes discos, the camps and prize draws. It also includes a ladies club started by Rosemary and friend Teresa, something which allowed her to get to know new members of the community.
“It started up as Fat Busters where we used to come on a Tuesday night and weigh and we paid for the hall and the winner took it all,” she says. “ en it grew into a ladies club. On Tuesdays we’d have a chat, cup of tea, maybe demonstrations like make-up, cooking. e best part would be the nights out for Easter and Christmas where we all get out for a wee night to maybe the bowling alley or out for a meal. It’s great for local women – the oldest member is about 82 and the youngest is 30. It is great and you do have the good craic.”
The mother of five and grandmother of three (she looks after all her grandchildren) was surprised there wasn’t anyone in the house while we chatted, “it’s the kind of house where someone’s coming in the back door and someone’s coming out the front door. Between young and old, there’s always a full house.”
From Donegal Town
Nominated by neighbour Irene
Lena was nominated by a former next- door neighbour whose mother, Renee, was her best friend. In fact, Lena stayed with Renee every day during her battle with pancreatic cancer, and until she passed away.
Of her nomination Lena says: “I’m shocked really and truly, this is overwhelming that this family would really think this much about me. “Everybody’s good but it’s nice to have a neighbour that’s a good friend,” she says of Renee. “Someone you can trust, someone you can tell anything to, someone who can tell you anything. If she wanted to go out for the night, I kept her children and if I wanted to go out, she kept all mine. My family grew up with them, they were like brothers and sisters. After their mother passed away it caused a big difference to me, I was very lonely and I missed her so much.”
is evident level of care was shown to many in their community, as Lena looked after Irene’s son and many other children in the area. With six in her family, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren it’s perhaps no surprise that Lena says, “my house is always full but that’s the way I like it. I just like company all around me and being involved with people.”
In the late 1980s Lena worked in a nursing home and this help extended to her own family and beyond, something she learned from her mother. “Where I come from, it would be a very close knit community. It would be one of those areas where people looked out for one another. Times have changed now.”
“I cared for my own mum and an old lady who was no relation, I kept her for 12 years here, along with my own family. She had Alzheimer’s and I kept her until the end. I loved helping out.”
Five years ago, Lena was diagnosed with breast cancer but fortunately has since got the all clear. “I’m still on medication for another year and a half but I’m doing fine, thank God.” Thankfully Lena had support around her through this and through more recent sadness with the passing of her sister. If she gets some spare time, Lena enjoys it but it’s clear that she relishes being with her loved ones – and they relish being with her.
“Everybody has big houses and I’ve only a wee house but everyone wants to stay in this one!” she laughs.
Our 2017 Ulster mum is Carmel Comaskey
From Tandragee, Co Armagh
Nominated by daughter Rhionna
“I don’t feel I work harder than anyone else. It’s part of my nature, it’s just what I do,” said our Ulster Mum Carmel when speaking with Woman’s Way. She may think differently but daughter Rhionna believes her mum to be ‘the most inspirational woman that I know.’
Having been around two strong, caring women – both her mother and grandmother were nurses – Carmel decided at age four to follow in the tradition. She began nursing training in 1977 in the Royal Victoria Hospital, at a time where the medical profession was needed more than ever.
“It was a hectic time,” she says. “It was a very busy time but mind you, it still is.” After completing training in midwifery and working in Belfast’s City hospital, Carmel began to travel, being drawn to certain areas where she could use her skills.
“I wanted to go to the Outback in Australia... I spent a couple of years out there and thoroughly enjoyed. en came the big famine in Sudan and I was drawn to that so I went out for 18 months to Sudan. It was fantastic to be able to do it; when you’re out at the ground level, you feel you can actually do something,” she says. “It was very, very basic, they didn’t have any high-tech gadgets.”
Daughter Rhionna writes: “ e fact that she has done these things still stuns me. She always puts other people first which shows me what a selfless woman she is.” Carmel’s work ethic continued as she escorted Ethiopian refugees based in Sudan back to their home country.
“We had a fantastic tutor when we were training and she used to keep saying, ‘When you have all finished your training, some of you will go off to places far away,’” she says. “We were thinking, ‘Not a chance.’ She was demonstrating the different things we’d have to do and it just seemed so far-fetched but in actual fact, it was right.”
She then worked in London before marrying Thomas and returning to Co Armagh where she had Rhionna and sons Brian and Fearghal. Carmel has been working in a medical practice for 11 years. Her little, significant touches demonstrate a woman who cares immensely for her patients, even opening early to let people come in who start work early.
Rhionna writes of a woman who is an exceptionally caring mother, who strikes the correct balance between letting her children be independent but remaining involved. “I concern myself about my children,” says Carmel, “I feel I just do whatever every mother does, do as much for them as I possibly can but try not to overdo it so they can get some independence themselves.”
Carmel also comforted Rhionna who has spent the past year living and studying in America. “The only way I could have stuck it out was because I knew she was always in my corner,” writes Rhionna. “I was trying to get the right level – I didn’t want her to feel that she couldn’t come home but I wanted her to feel that [she could] not come home and be full of regret. I was delighted that she stayed and started to enjoy it,” says Carmel.
“I was totally shocked about the nomination but I also said, my daughter was over in America for a year and I thought it was very nice of her to take time to sit and write this. I was quite emotional at the idea that she would even do it. But I am quite shocked; I have myself down as a very ordinary person but it’s very nice that that’s how she feels about me.”
Our Ulster Mum says that she’s been ‘very, very lucky’ with what life has thrown at her as various different jobs she was interested in landed in front of her. “There was nothing really planned but it just all happened very nicely for me.”
In her free time? “I’ve not a whole ton of it,” she laughs but she likes to walk, read and helps to look after her own mother. “I like to spend time with my family and just generally relax.”
Rhionna describes the impact her mother has had on her and her brothers and the lots of people who are astounded by her work ethic, selflessness and attitude towards life. “She gave us skills throughout our lives that allowed us to flourish when we left home. But we always come back because that is where she is,” writes Rhionna, concluding her nomination. Congratulations, Carmel.
Our 2017 Leinster mums
From Blainroe, Wicklow
Nominated by daughters Pauline and Cathy
Ann has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Due to this, we spoke to her daughter, Pauline, about her mum’s nomination and what it means to her mum and the family. Pauline tells us that when it came time to tell Ann that she was a finalist, her father wanted to be the one to break the good news to her.
“She was actually delighted. I told my dad and my father told her. She understood rightly because Mammy loves winning medals,” laughs Pauline. Ann is a mum of 17 and in their nomination, Pauline and Cathy write that their mum is “full of love, care and understanding” and that she made each of her children who they are today.
Growing up in a big family, Pauline tells us that herself and her siblings never wanted for anything thanks to their mum. As well as cooking, cleaning and ensuring they were well cared for, their mum would also put 50p away for each of her children in the Post Office every week.
Ann’s dedication to her family shines through in how she cared for her family when tragedy struck. In 1998 one of her children, Michael, passed away suddenly after a motorbike accident. Pauline says that her mother ensured everyone got through their grief.
“A lot of the time Mammy spent more time with us than grieving for herself. She would talk to us. She would make sure we were okay. She was always there. She spoke about him. She was never afraid to bring him up. She encouraged us to talk about him.”
Sadly, tragedy struck the family again in 2010 when Ann’s daughter Ann-Marie had a heart attack. Again, Ann rallied around her family. Pauline tell us that Ann has a special relationship with her daughter Cathy who was born with Down Syndrome. Cathy is also non-verbal and lives with diabetes, epilepsy and dementia. “It’s a very special bond that they have. Cathy’s her special girl, we always say.” Sadly, Ann’s suffered from two strokes and now uses a wheelchair. She also suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
When asked what her mum means to her, Pauline is honest: “She means the absolute world to me. No matter how many friends I have, Mammy has always been my best friend... Mammy gave us everything she had. She couldn’t give us any more. Anything we can do for her now, we will do for her to keep her content and happy.”
From The Plains, Kildare
Nominated by her daughter Donna
Nominated by her daughter Donna, Suzanne is also mum to Jessica and Jamie. When asked if she expected this type of behaviour from Donna she says Donna has always been very open with her appreciation.
“She’d always give me lovely cards with lovely things written on them. She’s a great daughter. She’d be very appreciative of me. We’re very close.” Their close bond, Suzanne says, is down to the fact that herself and Donna have “grown up” together. “I was a young mum. We’ve sort of grown up together nearly. We’re very close.”
Sadly Suzanne lost her husband when son Jamie was only four-months-old. “Myself and my husband were only four years married... it was a car accident. It was very, very sudden. I spoke to him on the phone ten minutes before it happened and that was it. He just didn’t come home,” says Suzanne.
The only thing that got Suzanne through this was her children. “I think for me, at that time, I had to get through it for the kids and that’s what I did. My kids are my life and I wanted them to grow up with a mum that they remembered as being happy and being part of their life. Not somebody that was lying on the couch crying all the time.”
As well as being a mum, Suzanne also cares for young people with autism. She says that her work offering home support has completely changed her life. “I’ve got two children now that I take weekly doing home support and giving their parents a little break. Both of the children have autism. I love them. They’re like part of my own family.”
In her nomination, Donna writes that despite having left school years ago, her mum recently returned to education to help “further her knowledge and understanding of special needs children”.
“I qualified a few months ago. I’m very proud of that. I got a distinction which I couldn’t believe because it’s 30 years since I left school, and I feel it is my calling in life really. I used to feel being a stay at home mother, and lots of my friends would have great jobs, and I used to think, ‘God, I’ve nothing. I’ve no career or anything and nothing to show’. But now having the qualification and doing the work I’m doing I sort of feel I’ve achieved something.”
So what does being a mum mean to Suzanne? “It means everything to me. I live for my kids. I love them so much... motherhood is the most difficult job in the world, but the most rewarding.”
Our 2017 Leinster mum is Anne Tracy
Nominated by her sister Grace
I used to be fairly career driven before I had children. I thought that was very important but I feel like this [being a mum] is the most important role that you could ever excel at,” says our Leinster Regional Winner, Anne Tracy.
“There’s nothing as important as me supporting my girls to have the best life that they can have. I feel like that’s my job. To safeguard them, protect them but also help them to be the best that they can be and to give them all the skills and tools that they need.”
Anne was nominated by her sister Grace and is mum to two girls: Aoibhe and Emily. In her nomination, Grace writes that her sister is incredibly “understanding” and “patient” especially when it comes to the way in which she cares for her eldest daughter Aoibhe, who has Triple X Syndrome.
“Aoibhe was born with low muscle tone. You know when you pick up a baby and they feel really strong? She would have felt a bit floppy. She needed a lot of physio, but it wasn’t until she was two that she had a chromosomal blood test and we went to see a neurologist. They told us that she had Triple X,” says Anne.
Triple X Syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects one in every 1,000 women and it can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities, both of which Aoibhe lives with. “It was one of those diagnosis that they weren’t able to tell me anything really. There was no, ‘She’ll be this, that and the other’. I know you can’t do that with any child, telling you how it’s going to go, but I didn’t know what to expect,” says Anne, speaking about the moment she learned of Aoibhe’s diagnosis.
Anne says that getting Aoibhe’s diagnosis was in many respects a relief because “there was confirmation that there was something there” and “the wondering was over”.
While Aoibhe is behind her peers developmentally and needs help with speech, language and balance issues, Anne says that she is doing much better than she was before. “Now in school she’s doing really well. Socially, compared to other children with Triple X, it would be the area that’s continually improved. A lot of girls would find that area is hard because they’d find it hard to make and keep friends, and Aoibhe would struggle with that but I think that’s the area that’s most improved.”
Over the years, Anne has been outspoken about the lack of support for parents in Ireland when it comes to Triple X, and would love to see more awareness being raised about the condition and the development of support groups for parents of children who have Triple X in Ireland.
“I feel like at the moment what’s great is that there is an awful lot of press about say Autism. Autism awareness and things like that, but unfortunately Aoibhe’s diagnosis is very under the radar and although [it affects] one in 1,000 babies, I’ve never met another child with Triple X in Ireland. There’s no support around that condition on its own,” says Anne. “In particular with Triple X it’s always helpful to talk to someone that’s in the same boat, that has the same experiences as you.”
Despite the lack of support, Anne says that she feels “blessed” to have Aoibhe in her life and that her daughter has her own special and unique gifts. “Aoibhe, she’s so perceptive. She’s very in tune with her emotions if you like. She’s not always able to express them in the best way, as in, if she’s angry she might throw something, but she’s very loving and if she feels like anyone in the room needs a hug, she’ll just go over and give it. It’s very lovely. We’re blessed.”
Aside from being a mum of two, Anne also works part time as a make-up artist for Clinique. She says that the best part of her job is the connection it gives her with others. “When you’re touching someone’s face they really open up to you. You can have all sorts of conversations with people.”
When asked what it would feel like to be crowned our Mum of the Year, Anne laughs. “Oh my God. I’m actually filling up even thinking about it. I feel like the ultimate compliment that someone could pay you is to even nominate you for this, but to actually win it? God. I don’t think I can even put it into words... I feel like I’m doing the most important job that I can do and I’m doing the best that I can, and it’s just the ultimate pat on the back, isn’t it?”
Our 2017 Dublin finalists
From Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Nominated by daughter Karen
“The two of them caught me on the hop. I walked into the house from a walk, I sat down at the table and the next thing they started letting off these popper things in my face.” This was how Joy was told that daughters Nicola and Karen had nominated her. “I usually know what’s going on but I’m out of my comfort zone,” says Joy. “It was really good fun.”
The mother of two is dubbed ‘mother, wife, sister, aunt, volunteer extraordinaire, florist, baker,’ by her children and sounds busier since retiring than she expected. Having spent over three decades working for Diageo, then Aviva, Joy was used to caring for others, looking after her three younger siblings from her early 20s.
In 2013, after a course of Play Therapy, Joy began volunteering with Barretstown family and bereavement camps. “This is a free weekend for the families and we do everything, from sweeping the floors to setting the tables, to babysitting, bringing them to activities. Then in 2015 they started up the HOP (Hospital Outreach Programme).”
Joy and the volunteers set up crafts and games in Crumlin hospital’s oncology waiting room to entertain those with appointments, plus they go on to the day ward to sit and interact with the children. She’s always on a lookout for more arts and crafts ideas – “I don’t like to throw kitchen roll holders out because you can make lovely Minions from them.”
Each Christmas, Joy volunteers with Team Hope and its shoebox appeal and has recently been credited as a walking tour guide volunteer for Clondalkin. “I liked the chance to talk the place up, and I do like meeting people. Over latter years, Clondalkin has a bit of bad press but there are so many historic landmarks in the village.”
Of her nomination she says she was “absolutely honoured.”
“I enjoy what I’m doing, I don’t see it as being the patron saint of goodness. It all just evolved. I didn’t say to myself, ‘by the time I’m out of work three or four years I’m going to be doing X, Y, Z.’ I started off with the things I had an interest in, with the therapeutic playschools course, knowing that I wasn’t looking for a job. Then I did a gardening one, then a floristry one and some other bits and pieces. They were more hobby type things. It’s all evolved the way I would have chosen it if I had said five years ago, ‘ is is what I want to be doing in 2017.’”
From Drumcondra, Co Dublin
Nominated by son Conor
“Unbelievable” is how Ann Grassick describes being a Mum of the Year finalist. “Conor told me last night and I nearly started to cry. I just do these things because that’s what you have to do. You don’t realise how much you do until you see what Conor wrote. He’s an unbelievable lad and he means every word of it,” Ann says.
She and her children have been going through an extremely tough time of late as Ann was recently diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Ann’s eldest son Conor. who nominated his mum for the award, says “Ann’s life is by no means easy, but she makes it look very easy and never complains.”
Colin, Ann’s youngest child, was born with a genetic condition called Prader–Willi syndrome. He struggles with never feeling full, behavioral issues, learning difficulties, delayed development and he has been diagnosed with Autism. “It just has so many problems,” Ann says of Colin’s condition. “If you sat somebody down and told them exactly what was involved they wouldn’t believe it. But I’ve given my whole life to him, I do nothing, I go nowhere, I don’t ever go out for a night, I don’t ever do anything. Anything I do, he’s with me and that’s what I’ve done for 20 years. We’re on that alert all the time because his anxiety levels can go from zero to a million, in no time.”
Despite the challenges the family have faced Ann believes that these have made them stronger as a unit. On her relationship with Conor she says, “We’ve had our ups and downs with life but we managed. He’s come out the other end stronger for it and I’m so proud of him.”
Ann’s diagnosis has come as a huge shock to the family, but her strength and resilience to handle whatever life throws at her is evident. “This is my biggest fight to date,” she says “but I’ll give it my best shot for the lads. We battle every day but the three of us just get on with it.”
Finding it difficult to put into words how much her children, and indeed the nomination, mean to her Ann says she never expected an acknowledgement such as this one. “I would have never have considered myself worthy to be in that position. I find it difficult sometimes to understand how I love these guys so much. They’re just everything to me, they’re absolutely everything.”
*Ann sadly lost her battle with cancer last year and passed away in June 2018.
Our 2017 Mum of the Year is Esther Kelly-Keating
From Dublin 24
Nominated by daughter Charlotte
“I’m a little bit overwhelmed to say the least,” says Esther when I call to chat about her nomination in our Mum of the Year Awards. “It’s just so emotional, for her to have nominated me is such a wonderful award in itself.”
Bright, bubbly and unfailingly positive she is a joy to chat to and speaks fondly of all her children, Charlotte , Ed, Matt and Maria. Esther works as the nursing director in a nursing home but she began her training as a nurse aged just 17 when she travelled to the UK to study. Some years later she moved back to Ireland for, “A man. I met my husband, the love of my life for 25 years,” she says.
While working in a care centre here, in 1999 she returned to university to update her nursing qualification, something that took her on a weekly basis to Belfast.
“It was a wonderful experience, I’m a great believer in lifelong learning. I think once things were reasonably organised and planned for everything worked hand in hand. The children supported me and each other. Which I think has put them in good stead.”
Not content with simply updating her qualification she went ahead in 2008 and returned to university to get her Higher Graduate Diploma in Gerontology from UCD. “Once I knew that was the field I was going to specialise in I wanted to be best, I wanted to have so much knowledge so that I could deliver excellency in care and keep abreast of current and best practice.”
In her nomination Charlotte describes Esther’s job as a vocation and certainly her passion for what she does is evident. Charlotte tells a story of how one Christmas day in the nursing home her mother went round all the residents and told them, “I love you.” She confirms the story but says wisely, “We’re all human beings, we all need love and we all need affection.”
While her job is undoubtedly a tough one, Esther doesn’t see it that way. “Midwives have the pleasure of bringing people into the world. We in gerontology have the great privilege of being with people in their last days, their last hours... It’s not necessarily sad because people are living their last breath. It’s wonderful to help people to have fulfilled lives.”
She says, “It’s all about safeguarding the vulnerable people. When you enjoy life and you enjoy work, you’re privileged. I love going to work.”
In 2008 Esther’s marriage broke up after 25 years, not only was she emotionally devastated but it left her in some financial difficulty with the threat of losing the family home. “It was an extremely difficult few years, it absolutely was. This is where your children, when you’re a mom you’re always a mom, so the children were quite young. I suppose they got me through, emotionally you can’t sink.”
Instead of dwelling on the negatives though Esther is determined to look on the bright side. “ Through it all I met some wonderful friends and you soon realise you are not on your own, there are so many other women out there who have been through similar.”
Esther fought hard to keep the house and succeeded, she recently sold it and has since moved to a new place. She describes the split as, “Just a situation that was like a bad nightmare because it’s a situation you never thought you’d be in.”
Esther says that after her marriage ended she regained some confidence and decided to take on even more challenges. “One of the first things I did was drive, that’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. What a completely new lease of life, that was fun.” She’s also been clubbing, something that she said she loved and that proves age shouldn’t preclude you from doing what you want. “Any of us growing older, my body might feel 90 but my brain...? I’m still in my 20s.”
In fact challenges are something she says she relishes, “I think having a challenge, it keeps you young, it keeps your brain healthy, I think when we stop challenging ourselves or pushing ourselves to the limit I think we sort of get older.”
Right now, Esther is focused on ticking experiences off what Charlotte calls her “bucket list.” She has been to New York, something she always wanted to do. And she travelled to Borneo last year to observe orangutans in their natural habitat. It’s something that’s inspired her and she plans to hopefully go out to volunteer with the animals. “I will go back, at the end of this year I’ll re-evaluate and hopefully put that into a plan to be out for a month or so. When you see these beautiful creatures, it was just such a pleasure.”