Lives Remembered

Mary McAleese: 'Mammy-Mary' was a mother to all

Mammy-Mary with John Hart's son Daniel

HAVE you ever been in Tannaghmore? A pub and a filling station offer landmarks, but the traffic hurtling along the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena rarely takes time to notice.

Just off that busy highway the other significant buildings are a school and St MacNissius' Church, and it was there the community recently said goodbye to a special person.

Mary McAleese was born and raised in Gortgill just outside Moneyglass. A Barry to her own name, she was the eldest of 11 brothers and sisters and it was that early experience of helping with younger siblings that forged strong maternal instincts.

Her father Paul lost his sight to glaucoma, but her mother Eileen was a tower of strength in adversity.

Tragedy also visited that loving home when her brother Luke died of rheumatic fever aged just 17, but Mary treasured his memorial card, a permanent fixture tucked into the frame of the Sacred Heart picture above the stove in her kitchen.

After leaving school she worked in Miss Rainey's in Randalstown as a tailoress but the wages couldn't match those of tobacco giant Gallaghers so she moved.

As a bridesmaid at her cousin's wedding, the young Mary Barry caught the eye of Danny McAleese from Lisnahunshin, and a courtship ensued.

They married, and with Danny having found employment in British Enkalon, they moved closer to Antrim, buying a small holding with a large farmhouse on the Drum Road.

She and Danny were blessed with three children, Denise, Joseph and Brendan, and from then on family was at the centre of everything she did.

She started child-minding for other people and it was there she earned a special name. In the 37 years I knew her, I never once called her Mary - she was 'Mammy-Mary'.

Being looked after at Mammy-Mary's was an idyllic rural experience.

Going down the road to McFadden's farm for milk straight from the parlour, or bringing Danny his tea and elevenses to Heffron's Bog, stopping on the way back at Mrs Dennison's wee shop for a quarter of toffee swirls of course.

There were no certificates, deposits or accident report forms, her contracts were built on trust and love, and talking at her wake we literally couldn't remember all the children who received care at the call of that special name.

She was of a generation where young Irish people had to seek opportunity across the world, and four of her siblings moved at different times to Philadelphia. But it was always a time of celebration when one of what were affectionately known as the 'yankee-doodles' returned home to visit.

Likewise, her niece-in-law and namesake Mary McAleese serving Ireland as its president with such grace and dignity was a source of tremendous pride.

Mary lost her husband Danny in March 2007, but her heaviest cross was yet to come. On a foggy February morning in 2011, her son Brendan said goodbye to his wife and young family, never to return, tragically killed in the Belfast flight disaster at Cork Airport.

It was a cruel blow, but with the support of her family, friends, and neighbours she carried on.

Her mobility was limited but the community came to her, with a wide coterie of callers visiting to chat and see how she was keeping.

Her five grandchildren also gave her great joy, and nothing brought her more contentment than cuddling a baby.

Just a week before Mary suffered the stroke that would precipitate her passing, the last infant to experience that tender love and expert touch was my own daughter Grace at her christening, and we will treasure those special memories.

Mammy-Mary pictured with Grace Hart at her christening

In Mark's Gospel Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but the one who sent me.”

Mammy-Mary welcomed all God's children, and that is why she can enjoy her rest in his eternal kingdom.

John Hart

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Lives Remembered