Saturday 24 February 2018

What it's really like being granny and grandad

Well known Irish personalities on how being a grandparent has changed their lives

Bertie Ahern in 2008, when he was Taoiseach, in his office with his twin grandsons Rocco and Jay. Photo: David Conachy.
Bertie Ahern in 2008, when he was Taoiseach, in his office with his twin grandsons Rocco and Jay. Photo: David Conachy.
Pauline Bewick in 1999 with her grandson Aran.
Gay Byrne in 2013 with three of his grandchildren, Saoirse, Sadhbh, and Cian.
Daniel O'Donnell with his granddaughter Olivia.

Well-known Irish grandparents give Liadan Hynes and Anna Coogan the low-down on what it's like having the pitter-patter of grandchildren around, about the heartfelt love, and the occasional worries

George Hook is a broadcaster, journalist and rugby pundit. He hosts The Right Hook on Newstalk, and was a rugby  coach and businessman.

"I have seven grandchildren at the moment, and another is on the way. My daughter Michelle has Jake, 13, Luke, 11, and Maggie, 6. They're in Dublin. My son George has George IV, 6, and Ava, 4, and there is another one due. They're in Cork.

"My daughter Alison is in London and has Emily, 4, and Grace, 1. I really only get to know my grandchildren when they're up and standing on their two feet. I don't think I've ever held them as baby-in-arms.

"I don't know if I ever cradled my own children; that's so far back. And besides they were my own children. My grandchildren are somebody else's, so you would be even more afraid again.

"I worry a little that I may be a little bit closer to the boys. They're older to begin with, and I don't do the 'goo goo ga ga' thing, so there's a risk the boys know me better. And they're so into sport, so we have great conversations about rugby and golf.

"There's a depressing side to being a grandparent you know. You think, I won't be around to see them grow up, to see them go to university. I'll have to get to 92 if I am to see Grace get to university.

"I'll have to hang around a while to see George IV go to Presentation College in Cork, the school I went to.

"I feel I have a lot to offer my grandchildren in an educational way. I had a great conversation with Luke recently about the historical background to Jesus. So there would be that, the wanting to be around for them and thinking I won't be.

"I think my children are better at being a parent than I am. I think they must have been watching their mother. They're under far more pressure in every way to bring up a family. So I give myself credit for that, for having raised three great children who are great with their children."

Kathleen Watkins, has five grandchildren, aged between six and 12.

"I think the most important thing you can give to grandchildren is your time. Not only time as a group if there are a number of them, but it's wonderful to give them time individually. I think also it's wonderful to be able to give parents a break from the children. Because they know that they are 100pc safe when they are with the grandparents. Another thing that I'm hugely into is supporting all their activities. These days they seem to have so many more than we ever had. I think it's wonderful to have many activities when they're very young, because something will emerge which will be major. Something they'll have a passion for, maybe a hobby for life. So our lot are dabbling in all those things, and I'm helping out as best I can. I absolutely love having them. They're terrific company. It was for Cian, who is the eldest, that I started to make up stories when he was small, and they're the stories that are coming out now in October in my children's book, Pigin of Howth."

Gay Byrne adds, "I love treating them to the little brown paper bags of sweets, going into the shop and buying a big bag of sweets for them all." Miriam Ahern, mum of Cecilia and Georgina, and a charity fundraiser, has five grandchildren between the ages of two and nine.

"The best thing about having grandchildren is the lovely reminder of the innocence and beauty of their little beings. Their language skills and how they use it as they learn. Also how it evokes memories for me of my own babies, some of which had faded. A delightful reminder. The worst…well it's hard to have a normal conversation with my daughters anymore, let alone finish a sentence without some sort of interruption. Children…Can't live with em, couldn't live without em!"

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says, "The best thing is the pleasure of meeting up with and hearing the gossip of their teachers and friends in school and out, the busy life they lead, sports, music, TV and, of course, iPads. The way you can spot the character formation. Who is bossy, who organises, who is demanding, cranky, and who has special interests and is prepared to work at it. The bad things are only their little worries and fits when they feel they are not winning. But I am lucky - my grandkids are kind, interesting and loving, like my daughters."

Daniel O'Donnell with his granddaughter Olivia.

Daniel O'Donnell with his granddaughter Olivia

Majella O'Donnell, singer and businesswoman, and wife of Daniel, is granny to Olivia, 1.

"The best part about being a grandmother is getting the chance to 'be a mother again' without having to 'be a mother again'.

"The worst part about being a grandmother is losing your figure!"

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, has a granddaughter, Esme, who is two months.

"I have seen her on two occasions. First for 15 minutes, and last week I saw her for about an hour. And I absolutely adore her. And her mummy is very kind, she sends me videos of her, and I just adore watching them. Even in the video, in this short space of time, I can see her reacting to her mother, trying to communicate. It's so cute. I just love her. I didn't expect it, this feeling of love for her that I have for my own children. It was that same bond. It's really special. I have her picture framed on my bedside locker. I'm so proud of her, as are her other adoring grandparents from Leitrim. One thing I'm really looking forward to is introducing her to my parents, her great-grandparents."

John Kavanagh, actor, recently played the role of Arturo Toscanini in Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears. His grandchildren are Livia, "eight in August", Rhys, 4, Marianne, 2, Esme, 11 months. "I've another one on the way this month, I don't know whether it is a boy or a child.

"With your own children you have to work so much. I remember with my daughter Rachel, the first time I heard her speak was on the phone. I was on tour in Manchester. You didn't just drop home then the way you do now.

"My daughters are in London and my son is here, but we're over to see the girls a lot. I feel I see all my grandchildren regularly. It's important.

"Do they make me feel old? No, they make me feel young. My grandchildren have given me a new lease of life. It's like a renaissance. I am full of energy around them.

"I never speak to them in baby talk. I chat away as normal and we have great conversations.

"You wouldn't want to be sensitive. I sat down to watch a film with Rhys. I was in the film. 'Do you want to watch me on the telly?' I asked. 'No,' was the quick answer. 'I want to watch something else.'"

Former TD and Senator, Mary O'Rourke, has six grandchildren.

"As I watch my six grandchildren grow physically, as I watch their minds expand, as I listen to their language with new words every day, I constantly say how fortunate and lucky I am.They laugh, they play, they shout, they argue, they sulk, they fight with one another, but I love them dearly, deeply and with all my heart. I never want them to grow old.

"I do not like the idea that these children will grow up, hopefully happily, have partners, have children, go into the world, have jobs, earn their living, study, fall in love, fall out of love and perhaps I might not be around to savour that part of their lives. For this moment, I am happy as Larry with my wonderful six grandchildren, Jennifer, Luke, Sarah, Sam, James and Scott O'Rourke. I love you all with a big collective hug.

Darina Allen is founder of the celebrated Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Co Cork, and one of our best-known chefs.

"Gosh, I'm numerically challenged so I'm going to do my best to get all the ages right," says Darina.

Her grandchildren are Joshua, 16, Lucca, 14, Scarlett, 7, Willow, 14, India, 11, Amelia, 7, Jasper, 6, Ottilie, 3, Zaiah, 4, Betsy, 2. "And there's another on the way in August."

"Well, we're in an extremely unusual position in that all our four children and their husbands and wives and our ten grandchildren live within five minutes of us. They're always in and out of the house, and I feel incredibly blessed because I can't get enough of all my grandchildren.

"They're clever and bright and wonderful. They just drop in any time and we might all have a big family meal about once during the week. There's such a special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, and the conversations you have with them are such a lovely part of any day.

"Of course I'm very busy with the cookery classes, but there is always time for the grandchildren. I'm not one of those grandparents who are called upon to mind grandchildren while their parents are at work. I think that might make for a different kind of relationship with grandchildren, and I think it might take the gloss off it.

"A grandparent's bond with grandchildren is so special that I think nothing should be done to change that or put a strain on it.

"All I can see are pros. I can't think of one single con. My grandchildren come into the garden and eat all the carrots and the beans and they think this is the most natural thing in the world, to have all this fresh food about. How special is that?"

Celia Holman Lee is a model, fashion stylist and TV personality, and founder of the Holman-Lee Model Agency.

Her grandchildren are Tommy, 2, Ryan, 4, Erika, 5, and Henry, 7.

"I remember when our first grandson was born and we were out walking and a friend came up to us and she said, 'I hear you've just had a lovely grandson.'

"We did, I said. I was delighted and overwhelmed.

"'And, she asked, 'what's he called?'

"My husband answered, 'The Messiah.'

"We all laughed, but it's so true. I totally idolise my grandchildren. I worship them. I let them do anything they want. Their parents say 'don't let them do too much of this or that' and I'm like 'of course you can, darling.'

"As long as they're safe and there is no fear of them banging their head or falling off anything, then I'm happy to let them do what they want.

"We're very hands-on, or at least I like I think we are, and we love to take the four of them out to dinner. For an early dinner if their parents have no other plans for them.

"I think it's amazing how being a grandparent makes you think. You see life as a much bigger picture. You think about how we're all put here with a choice, and so many of us choose to marry and have children, and then they go on to have children. And you just find that your ability to love expands and expands and keeps on growing.

"They're all away at the moment, away on their holidays. I find myself thinking about them a lot and wishing for them to come back but they'll be home soon, so we have that to look forward to." John Giles, football pundit, has eight grandchildren who range in ages from 11 to 20.

"The best thing is having the kids to stay. They come and visit. I've grandkids in England and in Ireland, and they're all brilliant, I love seeing them. They've always been great; they're very well behaved kids, well brought up. They all like their sports, which is great."

Maureen Arnold is mum to actress Leigh, Chloe, Simon, and the late Nicky. Her grandchildren are Sive, 3, Hunter, 4, Piper, nine months.

"It's all pleasure being a grandmother. The girls live in Ibiza, and so I go over there about once every six weeks, and then they come here for visits. For some extraordinary reason my grandchildren adore me. And it's just a completely joyous relationship. It's something I had never expected. In fact, when my daughter was pregnant with my first grandchild I kind of thought, 'ughhh, I'm not going to be called granny, I'm not going to be called nana.' But from the moment they were born - I was at the birth of them all, I was very privileged, we did it together - it was very special and very bonding. Being with them is just all joy. I can spoil them and get away with it, although I'm very, very respectful of their parents' rules. I don't throw them sneaky sweets and that. I do respect the boundaries. But at the same time I'm allowed to spoil them and get away with it. It's like having your own children. You immediately identify them as being part of your tribe, and part of your body. There was no hesitation. I just adored them from the moment they were put into my arms. I never anticipated it as being such an extraordinary relationship."

Mary Coughlan, singer, has grandchildren Meini, 9, Luke, 7, and Felice, four next month.

"There are so many best things, very few worst. Felice lives with me and the others stay over. I have never experienced anything like it. It's very different to having your own children. It's incredible. I see a lot of them. I'll pick them up from school. I'm picking them up from summer camp this week and they'll stay over. I brought them to Euro Disney last year. We have all sorts of stuff here, a swing, a climbing frame, horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys, three dogs, a cat and kittens, so it's a bit of a paradise for them. That's what I like to do when I'm not working and gigging, be with my grandchildren. You do worry about the planet, but you start worrying about those things when you have your owns kids though."

Pauline Bewick in 1999 with her grandson Aran.

Pauline Bewick, arist, is grandmother to Adam, 15, Aran, 19, Chiara, 19, and Giada, 15.

'Grandparents' by Adam Mulvihill, her grandson, written when eight:

'Grandparents are nice, and sweet, and ripe with treats,

of foxes toast, a story to tell, of a fun little blue elephant.

Ring on the doorbell, and the door pops open.

I go in for a story, it's five o'clock.

The story's funny, when Rocky's in it, and the little blue elephant goes looking for a bun.

Now I have some tea, with milk. The time is six o clock.

Thank you I say, as I leave. Back, up to my house.'

"We live so close, my grandson Adam would come down for stories and he'd roll about the carpet laughing, and I love telling stories. It was such a surprise to have boys for grandchildren, because I was among girls all the time. I have two daughters, I was brought up by a woman. So to have two boys living nearby was epoch-opening. How good natured they are, what interesting philosophies they have. I also have two granddaughters, they live in Tuscany in Italy, whom I love dearly, I just feel I understand them totally."

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