Tuesday 11 December 2018

Emma Mhic Mhathúna - A loving legacy evident in how her five brave children looked after each other

Courage: The coffin of Emma Mhic Mhathúna is followed by her children Natasha, Donnacha, Seamus, Mario and Oisín. Photo: Mark Condren
Courage: The coffin of Emma Mhic Mhathúna is followed by her children Natasha, Donnacha, Seamus, Mario and Oisín. Photo: Mark Condren
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

His little face bright and trusting, three-year-old Donnacha perched on his mother's coffin all the way down the aisle of the church.

It was the most poignant thing of all, to see how the five brave children kept each others' spirits aloft in little ways like this.

Outside the picturesque red sandstone church, as they awaited the removal of their mother's remains, the older boy mimed being blown away by the howling wind, as it billowed through their immaculate matching grey suits.

Emma had thought of everything in the preparation for her most untimely death.

It was clear she had invested all her time and emotion into preparing her beloved children for this moment - in so much as they could be prepared.

It was the strength of their love for her in making the best of this heartbreaking situation by looking after each other that brought prickling tears to the eyes of those who had gathered here to say a final farewell to Emma Mhic Mhathúna.

But never forgotten was the searing sense of bitter unfairness - and, above all, of a betrayal so monstrous that it made the blood run cold.

A faceless system had callously let women down when they were at the most vulnerable point in their lives, with young families still to raise.

The deaths of mothers like Emma, as a result of the cervical cancer scandal, need not have been. As a direct result of that, innocent children are suffering, before our eyes and out of sight.

On Dingle pier, two young fishermen were cleaning nets, while on the Conor Pass, a visible body of mist blew in like a sea sprite from the Atlantic, obliterating road and landscape.

The rising winds lifted spray from the waves crashing onto the shore.

For the past year and a half, west Kerry was where Emma had come to call home, settling into the parish of Baile na nGall on the Dingle peninsula.

She had soaked up the spirit, the music and the culture of the Gaeltacht, as well as the mesmerising, ever-changing scenery.

Emma had loved it here on a bleak day in winter just as much as she had done on a summer's day, the parish priest, Fr Eoghan Ó Cadhla said.

He had come to know her well and described her as "an exceptional woman" and likewise her children, whom he said are "beautiful, mannerly children and a credit to her".

Around 400 people had packed into Séipéal na Carraige, where many candles blazed brightly on the altar, with sunflowers to dispel the gloom.

Amongst them were students from Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne, with principal Éamonn Fitzmaurice, the former Kerry footballer and manager.

A guard of honour was given by children from An Ghaeltacht GAA club.

The Mass was simple and beautiful and 'as gaeilge', just as Emma had wished it to be, and all her children were involved.

Mario delivered the second reading while Natasha, Seamus and Oisín also brought up offertory gifts to symbolise the loves of Emma's rich life.

Reflecting her instructions, this was an 'aifreann ceiliúrtha' or celebratory Mass.

Poignantly, her remains were carried into the church to the traditional air, 'Táimse im Chodladh'.

Amongst the crowd were many women dressed in red - as a sign of solidarity. Emma had worn a red dress when she had made her appearance on the steps of the High Court following her successful settlement with the HSE and Quest Diagnostics, the US-based company that analysed her smear test results.

The same red dress was brought up to the altar as one of the gifts reflecting Emma's life.

Also brought up by her children were a clump of her favourite shrub, fuchsia - known as gaeilge as deora dé, or tears of God; a football jersey from An Ghaeltacht because of Emma's great pride that her boys played with the club.

A bust of Emma's face and a family photograph taken on a sunny day last summer were also carried up carefully, along with a Bible and rosary beads reflecting her deep, enduring faith.

Emma had studied theology and Irish at Maynooth University, had given out communion as a minister of the Eucharist at Mass, and had been a member of the Legion of Mary. But she had to give up these activities once she became ill, Fr Ó Cadhla explained afterwards.

Appropriately, given her great love of nature, the gales of wind outside added another layer of spiritual wistfulness to the beautiful music from the local choir, Cór Dhuibhne, with Éilís Cinnéide who plays with the group Lumiere, Pauline Scanlan and Gerry O'Byrne.

After the Mass, Emma's family, including her father, Peter, and uncle John Moran, gathered and summonsed the media. What followed was a wholly unexpected and deeply moving 'thank you' to the public and the media from Emma for supporting her in her campaign. It was deeply touching that in the midst of her own grief and all she had to think of before her parting, she had thought to do this.

The people of Ireland had taken Emma to their hearts, said John.

"We loved her. We miss her."

On their travels on the way up to Dublin for the funeral Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, he said he knew they would see "guards of honour and people who were genuinely moved by her life".

He described Emma as a fantastic mother and friend, and added "our job is to make sure her fantastic children are respected and grow to be lovely young adults" as Emma herself would have wished.

Irish Independent

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