As beautiful as she was, my mother told me that Granda told her that she would never be ‘Good looking!”

My sisters cannot believe he said that to her, as our mother was exceptionally beautiful, and I can only think that he either said it in jest, ironically, because she was beautiful. And this was just a little throwaway little joke, perhaps.

Or, perhaps he said it to make sure she would never depend on her looks to get through life. 

Or, it may have been that my Granda was worried that she might have known it, and he did not want her to be vain – an ugly trait in anyone – but far worse as a Catholic woman.  A Catholic woman looking at herself in the mirror was literary a sin. One of the seven deadly sins, in fact. Vanity.

And if you put on a bit of rouge onto your cheeks – or, worse, dabbing a bit of polish on your lips you are basically a Harolot! And you are condemned to Hell for all eternity.

Unless you confess to a priest and do your penance.

So, vanity, yes, let me tell you, it is a sin worse than eating meat on a Friday.

Mammy in her Wedding Car

Mammy in her Wedding Car (With no make-up on her face)

But whatever way Granda said it, it affected her self-esteem, and she had a deep complex about her looks for her entire life. 

She also complained about her long-lanky-legs and her awkward gait.

She also had one leg longer than the other from birth and she was very self-conscious about it. Not least because people constantly told her that she should stand straight: At school; in sports classes; in Assembly, and especially for photographs.

She was embarrassed to announce that she had a leg shorter than the other, so she found a way to hide it. She told me her secret, only a few years ago, she went up onto her tiptoes on her shorter leg and then half hid that leg behind the other one and hoped no-one would notice.

It worked.

The funny thing was that I never ever noticed it in all the years she was my mother. But she did. She was always conscious of it. 

On top of that, she also had a bash on her left leg in her pram when the ‘driver’ of the pram bashed into a garden gate and crushed her lower leg which scarred her for life.

She also spoke about her massive feet and found it really hard to find shoes for a woman in an adult shoe size eight. So she often had to buy smaller shoes and just jam her feet into them and hope they would stretch in time. 

She also thought she was far too tall for a lady.

Clearly, dainty was in vogue at that time. 

Such nonsense. But somehow these comments goes in to the deepest crevices of the soul.

As a full grown adult, not dainty like a nice graceful women with a smaller and slimmer frames and no dodgy legs, big feet and massive hands, she felt out of place. She said, “I stood out in the crowd and I hated it”.

I remember telling her that is a good thing these days, and we younger women are encouraged to STAND OUT from the crowd. But she said she was too self-conscious and just wanted to blend-in.

However, whether she wanted it or not, my mother stood out in the crowd. And it was nothing to do with her height, her ‘gammy leg’ as she called it, nor even her big feet and tall stature.

She stood out in the crowd because she was taller than all the women around her, and most of the men, she was beautiful, a full and sturdy figure, strong hands that could tear up the telephone directory in the height of the landline-era, and her strong, booming, lilting, Irish voice that carried beyond the street she stood upon and resounded in every green valley, small town and in the highest mountains of the land

Still, yet, our mother was the baby of the family, doted on by her big brothers, loved by her neighbours, loved by her friends, loved by her community, and why not? She was cheeky, formidable, bold, charming, feisty and witty.  And she definitely covered up her self-consciousness with humour. She was a bit of a wit and a whole lot of clown and was the life and soul of the party.

Her brothers were also great craic, of course, and full of stories and brought the party wherever they went. Her older brothers spoiled her, undoubtedly.  And she loved heading out with them to the pub and to parties and dances.

Her friends loved her for her great humour, her laid-back attitude and her very direct ‘tell it like it is’ way with storytelling and telling rather baudy jokes. And, not least, her reputation of being a bit of a social rebel. 

However, there was one person who really did not have too much time for her when she was young and that was her older sister, Mollie.

Mollie was “The Apple of her Father’s Eye” and in his eyes she could do no wrong. My mother did think that Mollie was his favourite, and everyone we spoke to about it confirmed it. So, being the baby, I guess she had to be a bit of a second wheel. 

Mollie saw Clare as a very annoying little sister who was deliberately stealing all the limelight from her and she would rather not pay her any attention.

There was a real sibling sisters rivalry there, even though the two ‘Book-End’ girls were at least ten years apart.

My mother told the story to me and to my oldest sister, Mollie, a few years ago. The story went that after spotting her big sister on the top and back of the bus, Clare ran up the stairs with her friend, and went up to the front of the bus and sat down with them, saying, ‘Hi!’

At that point, Mollie gathered her friends and stood up then walked away from her ‘Annoying little sister’ and headed down to the back of the bus and settled down into seats there. Clare was hurt and honestly did not know what she had done wrong.

She did something wrong just by being a wee annoying sister. Even if all you did was say ‘Hi!’

I have a similar story about my big sister, and told that to my Mum. And we both realised everyone is jealous of their little sisters. And we had a good laugh about it.

Nevertheless, when my Auntie Mollie was getting married, she asked her little sister to be bridesmaid. She loved her anyway, and that is the joy of girl sisters. You hate them one minute, you ignore them, you slag them off to their face, and bitch about them behind your back, and the next day they ask you to be your bridesmaid!

Both Mollie and Clare decided that they were going to go on diets for the wedding.

My mother repeatedly told me that Auntie Mollie was “The Apple of Grandad’s eye”. And everyone knew it. She told us that he adored her. She was great fun, quick witted, a little devious and and above all, she made him laugh.

When she and my mother decided to go on diets for the wedding, they consulted the latest diet books that were filling up the bookstores in the late 40s and in every Good Housekeeping supplement ensuring every woman who saw those images already felt shitty about themselves. And, as a catholic women, you have to measure up to Mary, The Mother of God. And The Mother of God Diet would be a brutal one indeed. As no matter how many pounds you starved off yourself, you will never be able to ascend into heaven. 

Mollie’s diet recipe said that she could have two ounces of bread at breakfast, along with one slice of lean bacon and half a grapefruit.

Grannie was up at dawn every day to retrieve the bread from The Hot Press, and baked a fresh loaf every morning. This bread was heavy. And, so, when Mollie weighed her two ounces of bread the previous evening, preparing for her diet breakfast the following morning, she was furious as it was so so tiny. 

She took the bread in her hands, stormed through to the sitting room, where Grannie sat happily knitting by the fire, Mollie stopped at the door and threw the two ounces of bread straight at Grannie, screaming, “There’s really no point in eating this is there. I’d be better off eating a cardboard box. There’d be more in it!”

Another young adult child would have been scolded for such an act, Grannie was shocked at her outburst but couldn’t really scold her because Granda just laughed.

Granda just laughed. 

How he loved his Mollie Malone.

The Apple of his Eye…


Auntie Mollie in her Ballerina Dress