Not so much looking down as across..

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Kate!

My poor mother was three days in labour before I decided to make an appearance. That may have something to do with my being late for the first fifty five years of my life. For the past four years I have been ferociously punctual - like a reformed smoker or alcoholic. I cannot understand how a person can be late for an appointment. I was delivered in Castlebar Hospital. They had practically run out of surgical implements before they succeeded.

As I result I led the rich kid, poor kid life of the only child. Making sandcastles all my own on the beach in Rosses Point I would look enviously at large families where children fought incessantly over buckets and spades. Just after my seventh birthday I was brought into the dining room and sat down. I felt I must have done something really bad. No, all was fine. 'How would I like a baby brother?', I was asked. 'Fine', I said, 'now can I go out and play football, please'.

Family lore recalls how my parents went in to collect a boy and came home with a girl. Things were a litte less formal in those days. They fell in love with a pretty little baby girl of five months with beautiful sad eyes. She was to be called Catherine Anne in memory of my paternal grandmother. My sister Margaret was born three years later on the stroke of six pm to the sound of the Angelus Bells. They first attended St. Louis in Rathmines and then went to the Domincians in Muckross Park for secondary school. My father suffered a stroke just as Margaret was beginning secondary school. The nuns put the girls through secondary school for free. I did not realise how my leaving home in 1969 affected Catherine. It was only 20 years later I learned that she had decided to change to writing with her left hand as I do. I left home to join a bizarre Religious Order called the Legion of Christ. The family was allowed a visit to the seminary twice a year. Catherine had heard me mention how I loved Fur Elise by Beethoven. Sure enough, on the next family visit she sat down at the piano in the monastery's reception room and played the piece flawlessly.

Catherine failed every single subject in her mock exams of Spring 1976. My parents stormed heaven with prayers and by some miracle she squeezed through the Leaving Cert and got the necessary points to study nursing. Kate was accepted by James St Hospital. She spent the first year as an intern and in her second year she and a number of tearaway nursing friends rented a house on South Circular Road. The parties were famous. I brought two friends to one particular party. They met student nurses and thirty years later they are still married to them. Be careful where you party..

I returned home after an absence of seven years to find my room which Catherine had occupied covered in giant posters in homage to Liverpool Football Team. Handsome young men adorned my bedroom walls and even the ceiling. Long hair, bushy moustaches and short shorts. Typical footballers of the seventies.

After graduating Catherine studied midwifery in Stirling in Scotland and returned to take a job in the Adelaide Hospital. It was unusual for a Catholic to be employed in a Protestant hospital - yes just 30 years ago!

On a beautiful early summer Sunday in 1984 we celebrated Claire's Christening with a party in our back garden. Catherine casually let it slip that she would be leaving Ireland for a few years to work with Concern in Bangla Desh. it was around this time she decided to amend her name to 'Kate'. It took the family some time to adjust to this and my mother still refers to Kate as Catherine. I am a great believer in calling people whatever they wish.

We would get a letter every few months with photos enclosed. We read of hilarious tales of derring do. The expatriate community worked hard and played hard. The photograph above was taken on a trip she made to Nepal. She returned home in 1987 with exciting news. She was engaged to be married to Colin who worked as an engineer on gas turbines. I was supposed to interview him very diligently and determine his intentions. I failed woefully. I simply felt if they were happy, then I was happy. And they were happy.

As Colin was a divorcee they were not able to be married in Church. However we had the most wonderful time in Lincoln where Colin was now working. Colin and Kate met us at the Little Chef cafe just beyond Anglsea Island as we headed to France for three weeks holidays. Claire who was now three enquired ' if we were there yet'. We did not have the heart to explain the journey that lay ahead that took us to London, Dover, Calais, Paris, Lyons and eveually Port Grimaud. We returned to Lincoln to celebrate the wedding.

Colin and Kate bought a pleasant, handsome red brick house outside the City Walls of Lincoln, just a 20 minute walk from Lincoln Cathedral. Some time later the company asked Colin to move to Como in the north of Italy for seven years. We enjoyed the most wonderful holidays there. The hospitality was unflagging.

It was in Italy we began to notice how Kate's mental health was deteriorating. She found it impossible to leave the house on her own and continually checked windows and doors last thing at night. In every other sense she was as normal as we were, more normal than the rest of us, full of fun and laughter.

They moved to Australia for two years and we all but lost touch. It was there she was hospitalised and received electric shock treatment which I believe to be inhuman. We were relieved and delighted when they returned to Lincoln and were only an hour and a Ryanair flight away.

I tried to make a point of ringing her most days. Some of the chats could go on for hours and I am sure BT were delighted. Her phyiscal health began to deteriorate over the next few years and when she came to Dublin for a family visit at Christmas 06 my mother knew with maternal instinct that she would never see her daughter alive again.

Kate died in Lincoln Hospital on the 22nd of February 2007. I had spoken to her only two days previously. I managed to fly from Tenerife and drive through the night from Manchester to see her before she passed away quietly.

We celebrated her month's mind in Monkstown Catholic Church in March 2007. I had dropped a note to Concern advising them that a former volunteer had passed away. I got a lovely letter from Fr Aengus Finnucane. I was pleasantly surprised to find that her memorial mass was attended not only by nurses who had served with her in Dublin but also Concern volunteers who had served with her in Bangla Desh over tenty years previously.

Kate dealt with her mental illness with humour and without self pity. We never got a complete explanation of her exact problems but we have assumed it was a form of depression. Whatever it was, she managed it with heroism. Day in, day out. My heart goes out to people dealing with mental problem every day of their lives. I think of the terrible drugs they have to take, of the slurred sentences and the private demons.

And always there was laughter. Amazingly she could always see her plight with perspective. She had the most infectious laugh. She was one of the warmest people I ever met.

I feel honoured to have been called her brother.

She would have been 52 on the 8th of July 2010.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.


  1. Padraic, I just read this beautiful tribute to your sister Kate and I was really moved by it.
    What a truly lovely story and what a wonderful relationship you both had.
    It is so sad that she suffered so much and I could feel your pain and sadness in your post, but like us all who have lost precious family members, your love for her was the strongest emotion I felt.
    May Kate rest in peace.

  2. Thanks Brigid. I think in some ways I am only coming to terms with her loss now. The passing of years helps to give us some perspective. We feel so proud of what she achieved abroad but profoundly sad she could never return to live in Ireland - for all its faults!
    Thanks for your kind words and wishes

  3. Padraic from an emotional perspective this is a wonderful tribute to your sister Kate. From a writing perspective what a beautiful gift you have in being able to bring Kate so much to life in this post. Although I couldnt quite see the last few lines the first time I read it, I was left with a feeling that Kate touched so many lives. I am so glad she found a good man with whom to share her life. And she had a brother who so appreciated her spirit.

    Thank you for sharing her story and Happy Birthday Kate!

  4. A truly wonderful, loving tribute to a much loved sister. Your love for your sister Kate is felt throughout this post.

    Happy Birthday Kate.

  5. Thanks Barbara and Ann. Prompted by your kind words and the discovery this week of an old wedding photo I have created a teeney weeney mini blog. Cheers.P
    PS How do you spell 'teeney weeney'??!!

  6. Padraic I found your blog via a comment you made on Barbara's post on her contribution to the Concern for Haiti book. My interest was sparked by the comment on your late sister having been a Concern volunteer in Bangladesh. I had a look at your blog and found this post (Ann above is another mutual blogosphere friend whom I was fortunate to meet in person this year - we both come from the same neck of the woods). I was very moved by your loving tribute to your sister Catherine/Kate - it even looks like we had the same maiden names if she was also Murray - serendipity indeed. And how like Aengus Finucane (RIP) to have arranged a memorial service for Kate. He had such a big heart and his own funeral this time last year was a wonderful celebration of a life well lived. I wrote a blogpost tribute to him here
    He also christened our teenage daughter back in 1996 and was our boss for most of our 12 years with Concern over a 20 year span, and a friend till the end.
    So while I didn't know Kate - we were in Bangladesh at different times; I was there 78-80, met my Dutch husband Jan there and we live in Lismore now - there are many common links. I am a nurse too, Jervis St. trained and a bit older than Kate. I am so sorry to hear of her health problems, and hope she had a happy fulfilled time for most of her too short life.
    I hope you visit my blog and perhaps follow it. It's a bit of a miscellany and occasional rants, but I enjoy writing it.
    All the best and thanks for sharing this post with your readers.

  7. Thanks Catherine for your lovely note.
    Life is made up of so many wonderful coincidences - or are they coincidences???
    I am running late for a meeting but will catch your blog again.
    With warm wishes