I wanted to find three words to describe the qualities of my mum.
The first is Stubborn. Not in any negative sense of course – but mum was stubborn in defence of her own interests, and those of her family.
Perhaps one of the three defining moments in mum’s life took place in the autumn of 1958, when she fell pregnant with me. Being a young, single woman expecting a baby in Ireland in the 1950s was not a comfortable position to be in. But she was stubborn in not wanting to marry my biological father. And she was stubborn in not wanting to give me up. So she put herself, and the rest of the Kinsella family it has to be said, through a fair bit of heartache leaving for Manchester, having me, resisting the British social services – every bit as bad as the Irish it seems – and persuading my grandparents to look after me while she began to build a life in Manchester. Looking back on it now, over 50 years ago, it took great courage, determination, and yes I’ll say it again, stubbornness, to remain true to herself and do what was best for me. I will always be grateful to her for that. I saw that stubbornness over and over again as I grew up, my mum fighting for me against a system in Britain in the 60s and 70s which seemed designed to put obstacles in the way of a working class kid, raised of Irish catholic parents, trying to grow up in northern England.
The second word could be love – but I wanted to use a deeper, more meaningful word to describe her relationship with my dad. Faithfulness comes closer perhaps, or constancy. Perhaps Steadfast captures it best, because without doubt the second defining moment in mum’s life was meeting Jim, in Manchester, back in the early 60s. What a lucky man Jim was, meeting such a wonderful woman – and what a lucky woman my mum was, meeting such a man as Jim Riley. I was doubly blessed to have such a powerful, courageous woman as my mother, and for her to have met such a warm, loving, selfless man as my dad, who treated me as his son from the moment he met me, and never wavered in his love for me or mum. The third defining moment in mum’s life was Jim’s own death, back in 1996, and that steadfastness remained with her long after his passing. There would never be another man in mum’s life – because Jim was the man she’d decided to share her life with.
The third word is sociable. My mum was quite the extravert in her day. She loved making friends – even to the end. I’d sit with her at Cubbington Mill, where she spent her final months, and whenever one of the staff members walked past, mum would chip in with a greeting and turn to me, to say, sotto voce, “she’s my friend you know”. She loved the fact her picture was in the paper recently, and one of the greatest sadness’s of her last year with us was that she wasn’t able to get out and see her friends in the way she used to do. I think this joy of life is a Kinsella trait – certainly many members of mum’s family are larger than life characters – and I guess you had to be pretty confident in yourself as one of six kids to get anywhere in No 6 Vincent Street in Dublin back in the 40s and 50s.
What would mum say now – how would she want her life to be remembered. Well, she’d want to say thanks to her mum and dad, Daisy and Peter, for everything they did for her. She’d want to send her love to her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, especially Yvonne, who I know she came to view as the daughter she never had. She’d say thanks to all her friends, old and new, for making her life so happy. She’d want to tell me off for using so many tissues writing this eulogy, and finally she’d want to say a special thank you to Jean, for raising three grandchildren who were the light of her life.
Alex, Jess, Matt – she loved you more than words can say, and I know you loved her too.
If you three can be stubborn as she was in the defence of those important people in your life, as steadfast as she was in your love for your family, and as sociable as she was in remaining friends with all those who cross your path during your time on earth, Grandma will have passed on to you three of the greatest qualities life can give us. Thanks mum.