Remembering our nanny, Maureen McDonnell - gentle, petite, yet mighty.

by Corinne McPartland
(London)

There's a saying that I found, which goes: "Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as real strength".

That saying could have been written especially for our nanny.

As many of you know Nanny - or Maureen as she was known to many of her friends and family here celebrating her life today - battled with Alzheimer's for more than 10-years.

Now, I don't want to make this tribute about the battle she fought with the disease – I would rather remember the woman she was and the lives she touched.

But I wanted to say a couple of things about that phase in her life.

The first is that during her illness, she never lost her grace or gentleness.

She also never lost that twinkle in her eye. She would often use her eyes, towards the end when she couldn’t always communicate, to confirm everything was ok.

The second was to say thank you – as I know she would do, if she was here today – to all of you who cared for her during her illness.

Nanny received incredibly good care from her family and friends, which enabled her to stay in her own home right up until she took her last breath.

When that moment did come for her, she was surrounded by her cherished babies, some grandchildren, lifelong friends and siblings.

Those moments, in the very last weeks, were very peaceful for Nanny.

Her children have told me that they felt lucky to have such a great mother, and even luckier that they were able to spend so much time with her - by her side - at the end of her life.

The thing is, Nanny didn't have many material treasures in life. She didn't place a huge importance on anything material – except maybe the prayer book her father gave her and her rosary beads.

Instead, her real life treasures and greatest achievement was her family.

Being a relatively quiet and unassuming lady, her love and devotion for her family did not require words because it was in every single thing she did – and that's real love.

And I know that Nanny would have felt safe, loved and cherished – right up until the end.

Because when I think about growing up - and I know her other children and grandchildren also share this feeling – Nanny was our sanctuary.

She shared our worries, was our shelter when things got tough and her constant love and quiet, reassuring presence – made us feel that we could get through anything that life might have thrown at us.

But Nanny wasn't just a great mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She was a faithful, loving wife - who probably had to put up with a lot from our beloved grandad, who many of you know, was a larger than life character – and who is now probably disturbing her peace and quiet up in heaven as we speak.

She was a kind and loyal friend and neighbour – many of those friends are here today.

I know she loved sharing many memorable holidays, bingo sessions and natters up the parade with you all.

She was also a respected and much loved daughter to her parents and sibling to five brothers and sisters: Seamus; Sean; Phylis; Kathleen and Nuala.

Leaving Ireland when she was just a teenager, Nanny was the first to come to London. A pioneer you might say - her strength of character bubbling to the surface even back then.

She was then closely followed by her sister Phylis, brothers Sean and Seamus and then Kathleen.

I've been told that her parents didn't worry when their other children also followed suit and left for England, as they were comforted in the knowledge that Nanny was there. She was wonderfully supportive to them all, made sure they had somewhere to stay and got jobs. Some even referred to her "The Irish Mammy Abroad".

Family had always been so important to Nanny and I think that stemmed from the strong, loving, and equally laid-back and relaxed family she had been born into, in Martinstown, West Meath. She often was quick to remind anybody that all the good traits in us had come from the 'Gavigans' – a name she was so proud to say she had come from.

Her brothers and sisters have fondly shared memories of Nanny when she used to return home from England, and used to spend time mopping and cleaning and ensuring they left their wellies out of the kitchen – much to their amusement.

Mostly they remembered Nanny as a quiet woman - who also equally loved a sing-a-long and the criac - but who was also loved and respected by all her brothers and sisters, who they say "possessed a steady, reassuring presence that made you feel secure".

Now, during her time in London, many of your know, Nanny worked as a 'clippie' on the City Buses (the one she spent most of her time on was the number 8, for those of you who might want to know!)

There, she met my grandad – Michael McDonnell – who was no doubt causing havoc on the bus or being charmingly cheeky to her.

But, as they say, love strikes in the most mysterious of ways, and they ended up marrying. They went onto raise eight children: Mary; Katherine, Patricia, Michael, Claire, Fiona, James and myself. They moved from central London, to Croydon and then here to New Addington – where they raised their children, 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

There are so many happy memories of time we spend with Nanny, that it would be impossible to mention all of them today.

So I asked the other grandchildren what memories they had of her – and the things they remembered were just so simple, yet highlighted the fact that she didn't have to spend hundreds of pounds on activities – she just gave them her time.

Some of the memories were:

  • rolling down the hill in her back garden
  • picking gooseberries and strawberries in her garden
  • getting fish and chips with her up the parade
  • her pearly pink lipstick in the bathroom window and her small bottle of and bottle of gold hairspray on the table at the bottom of the stairs
  • making bread with her and her letting us lick the spoon
  • when she used to let us eat the roast potatoes hot out of the oven on a fork
  • Nanny riding the pushbike around the caravan with us
  • Her telling us about Nellies Room, which was apparently behind the wall paper.

These are just of the few of the fond memories they have of Nanny, and I know there are many more that each of us will keep in our hearts.

So, Nanny, from you we learnt to be grateful, count our blessings and be happy. Your humility kept us grounded and down to earth. You taught us to be wise in words, actions, thoughts and deeds. You leave to this life, your family – your most treasured possession. And through your family you will live forever in our hearts.

Now, you will be at rest.

Until we meet again.

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