Monday 26 February 2018

Interview: 'I fell in love with him, then I entered the monastery...'

Edel coffey speaks to Eibhlín Mac Máighistir Gede about her biography of her late husband Laszlo - and her own equally remarkable story

Love at first sight: Eibhlín and Laszlo
Love at first sight: Eibhlín and Laszlo

When Eibhlín Mac Máighistir Gede first met her husband, Laszlo Gede, she was tending to his dying wife Irén, while herself preparing for a life in the convent. But Laszlo's "magnificent pale blue eyes" set her on an entirely different course.

Eibhlín has just written her late husband's story, and her own equally remarkable story, in her memoir, Liffey Green, Danube Blue.

Laszlo was a Hungarian clarinettist who came to Ireland in 1969 after surviving the Second World War and being imprisoned by the postwar communist authorities. He escaped to Austria with Irén, his third wife, during the Hungarian uprising of 1956, before settling in Ireland.

As remarkable as Laszlo's story is, Eibhlín's is just as fascinating. When Laszlo died, at the age of 90, in 2005, she returned to her home town of Dublin. "I went into a terrible darkness. I couldn't manage life without him."

She started writing the book as a way of occupying herself, as well as paying tribute to her late husband.

She remembers their first meeting: "I was working in Vincent's private hospital, nursing his darling Irén. She was terminally ill. She loved me and I loved her, I really felt for her. I went in one day to do her checks and Laszlo was there. I must have met him many times, but she said, 'Lazlo this is Eibhlín'. His face was loving and I could see that he was a lovely man. Irén was very clever. She wanted me for him, no doubt about it. I was a nurse, and nurses are kind. She knew I would be very kind to him."

It was love at first sight.

"That was when I fell in love with him, even though I went to the monastery after that," she adds with a laugh. "But my journey was going in a different direction because one of the sisters had asked me had I thought about being a sister. I entered an enclosed monastery, the beautiful Carmelite nuns."

When she first entered the convent, Laszlo came to visit her to talk her out of it. His wife had since died.

"We argued politely, or exchanged views politely. He wanted me to come out immediately and I wouldn't. He said, if you ever leave, please get in touch with me. I said of course, never thinking in a million years I was going to leave because I loved it. It was just heavenly.

''I was there for a year but my journey was not that journey. My soul craved that austerity and I wanted to stay in the monastery with all my strength but it was like I was in my little boat and the wind and waves were pushing me out and back from where I came."

When she was admitted to hospital in St Vincent's after a spell of bad health, an old nursing friend brought her out to visit her father in his apartment in Dundrum, which was strictly against the rules for a Carmelite nun.

"When I saw dada and the apartment, I realised I had to come out." A day later, she was no longer a nun.

Eventually, she contacted Laszlo. "He didn't answer... but he arrived on my doorstep several weeks later. He was living in Luxembourg at the time. I was overjoyed. I was madly in love with him, and he with me. He had three wives before me.

''I introduced him to my dada and they got on well even though they were much the same age. My father looked his age but Lazlo was extremely young-looking and handsome. You'd get weak at the knees."

She describes him as a George Clooney for his time. The pair married four years later. She says it was a kind of relenting on her part as she was still struggling with dedicating her life to religion. And there was another issue.

"When we married I was finding intimacy very difficult because of my childhood brush with paedophilia."

Eibhlín grew up in Dublin of the 1940s and 1950s.

"It was nice but tough because money was very scarce. My parents were terribly good, too good. They were beautiful human beings. Mother took in paying guests to supplement father's income.

"They had a mortgage to pay and three mouths to feed. It was during this time that mother was asked would she care for this priest and she did.

She took him in and looked after him and it was during that time that he took advantage of their kindness and got me alone."

Later, he suggested to her parents that he take all three children for a holiday to the west of Ireland, to say thank you for the kindness they showed him.

"I was nine years of age and very timid. He got me in the dunes while my siblings were out swimming. He collared me and all I could do was pray to our lady.

"The next thing, I heard my sister calling me and she came down and looked into the dunes and she took my hand and brought me away.

''Years later, I asked her why she came and she said she had a feeling in the water to go and look for me."

The family's hardship may have been surprising considering Eibhlín's mother's family were descended from Edward III, but her royal connections were not talked about at home.

"It was never discussed because my mother's family were protestants and became Catholics and with all they had seen up in Belfast, they just didn't want to talk about it.

''And anyway, we were just working-class people now and people would say you had delusions of grandeur."

Liffey Green, Danube Blue is published by Merrion Press. All proceeds go to St Vincent de Paul

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