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Book review: Surviving mammy’s death with love and laughter

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?

Séamas O’Reilly

Fleet, €14.99

‘One thing they don’t tell you about mammies is that when they die, you get new trousers.”

With this opening line, we are handed a snapshot of what five-year-old Séamas O’Reilly was thinking about following the loss of his mother in 1980s’ Derry. He sits on his “first day as a half-orphan” and hears how God had chosen to take his mammy to place in his own garden. This seems a logical explanation to the child who acknowledges that: “she was a massive fan. She went to all his gigs — mass, prayer groups… and had all the action figures — Infant of Prague statuettes… little blue plastic flasks of holy water in the shape of God’s own mammy herself.”

O’Reilly is the tenth of 11 children and we learn how, despite his obvious grief, his father managed to raise this large family without any of them starving or suffering any major accidents.  

Community was a large part of the family’s recovery after their mother’s death. Young Séamas begins to notice how loved Sheila was. With a house full of people (“They weren’t strangers exactly, they just weren’t house friends”) the traditional Irish wake was held and the book’s title is revealed as a part of O’Reilly-lore. As the “Wee Ones” were “wandering free around the gathered mourners”, Séamas “skipped sunnily through the throng… with the cheerful inquiry: “Did you hear Mammy died?”

Grief is a journey which varies for each person who has lost a loved one and O’Reilly struggles to process his own grief due to his young age. The humour of which emerges from the pages is rightly inserted at the most inopportune moments. Sedaris in style (observational anecdotes in abundance), O’Reilly’s love for his father and siblings is apparent. Expect to laugh out loud, almost constantly, and fall in love with the O’Reilly clan.

I cannot recommend this enough. An outstanding read.  

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