One of 11 children, Séamas O’Reilly was just five years old when his mother died. In an extract from his touching new memoir, he recalls with childlike clarity the awful day of her wake

One thing they don’t tell you about mammies is that when they die you get new trousers. On my first full day as a half-orphan, I remember fiddling with unfamiliar cords as Margaret held my cheek and told me Mammy was a flower. She and her husband, Phillie, were close friends of my parents and their presence is one of the few memories that survive from that period, most specifically the conversation Margaret had with me there and then. “Sometimes,” croaked Margaret in a voice bent ragged from two days’ crying, “when God sees a particularly pretty flower, He’ll take it up from Earth, and put it in his own garden.”

It was nice to think that Mammy was so well-liked by God, since she was a massive fan. She went to all his gigs – mass, prayer groups, marriage guidance meetings. She had all the action figures – small Infant of Prague statuettes, much larger Infant of Prague statuettes, little blue plastic flasks of holy water in the shape of God’s own mammy herself. So, in one sense, Margaret’s version of events was kind of comforting. It placed my mother’s death in that category of stories where people met their heroes.

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