Thursday 23 March 2017

My biggest regret is losing Mam before finding fame, says Mary

John Spain Books Editor

Mary performing on
'The X Factor'
Mary performing on 'The X Factor'
Mary Byrne as a teen

AS the lights went down on 'The X Factor' last year, Mary Byrne's dream had come true -- she had made it as a singer at last.

But even in her moment of triumph and at all the high points since, Ms Byrne has had one huge regret -- that her beloved mother Lily was not there to see her success.

Ms Byrne's lingering grief for her mother, who was taken by Alzheimer's a decade earlier, is movingly revealed in her autobiography published yesterday.

In the book, 'This Is My Life', Ms Byrne delves into her past and recounts, in a frank and honest fashion, stories of her childhood in Ballyfermot, how the good clothes would go in and out of the pawnshop, her loving family, stories of colourful relationships and broken hearts, her time on a kibbutz and her world travels.

And the book reveals what was really going on behind the scenes of 'The X Factor' last year between the judges and the contestants.

But it is Ms Byrne's description of the pain of watching her mother suffer with Alzheimer's that is one of the most powerful sections of the book. When her mother died aged 69, Mary's grief was so overwhelming it nearly destroyed her.

But her description of the early stages of the disease is both funny and tragic: "Mam wandered off a lot and we had all our neighbours, on the Avenue, the Crescent and the Parade, on high alert. There were many times when someone in the neighbourhood would find her rambling around and bring her home, God love her and them.

Wrong

"They all knew her, and even before we told them about her condition they were aware that something was wrong because sometimes she'd go out walking wearing just her slip and coat. When we asked her where she was going, she'd tell us, 'I was going home to my mammy'. She'd be out looking for the house she grew up in. After a while, we took to hiding the door key from her, which drove her mad. She'd tear the place apart. 'Where's the bloody key? Yous are always trying to lock me in.'"

Ms Byrne writes: "Whoever was free would take her out on a walk, saying, 'Just give me a minute, Mam, and I'll go out with you.' If you met someone and stopped for a chat, you'd have to keep a close eye on Mam because she was liable to disappear in a flash when you were distracted. More often than not, I'd have to cut a conversation short and go running after her. It was like looking after a little child.

"In the end, Mam's physical health broke down. She picked up a cold and just couldn't shake it off. We got the doctor out and he told us that there was a slight touch of pneumonia to the lungs, and that we just had to keep her warm with lots of fluids. He wanted to put her into hospital, but Mam had said to us, 'Don't let me die in hospital', so we were determined to put it off as long as possible."

Ms Byrne adds: "The night before Mam passed away, I went down to help Willie (Ms Byrne's brother) give her dinner. At this stage, she and Dad (Thomas) were sleeping downstairs, in the sitting room. They'd also recently had a bathroom built downstairs. She was just lying there, unable to eat. When I was leaving (Ms Byrne had moved to her own home in Cherry Orchard) I said, 'I'm off home now, Ma, I love you.'

"Up to that point she hadn't recognised me for some time, but she immediately replied, 'I love you too, Mary, look after yourself.' In that moment, she knew who I was.

"After I left, Willie washed her, because she was going into hospital the next day. I said a prayer to God that night: 'Please God, if you can't heal her, then just take her away because that's not my Mammy lying there anymore. She doesn't need to suffer like this.'" Later that night Mary's mother Lily died.

•'This is My Life' by Mary Byrne is published by O'Brien Press at €16.99. Mary Byrne's new album ' ... with Love', produced by Phil Coulter, is released on November 27.

Irish Independent

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