Wednesday 17 January 2018

Meet the godparents -the return of christenings as a family day out

With baptisms now competing with Communions and Confirmations as important days of celebration, being chosen as a godfather or godmother is a real honour, says Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Forget the movies, godmothers aren't just about granting fairytale wishes and godfathers don't knock people off on your behalf -- just be sure to read the job spec before signing up!

The summer has seen a charge of Irish celebrities heading up the aisle. From the top-secret service pulled off by chick-lit queen Cecelia Ahern and partner David Keoghan to the photo-friendly do of actor Dominic West and Catherine Fitzgerald, churches are busy. But it's not all about the nuptials.

Christenings are rapidly rising up the ranks as one of the big family days out -- in fact these two celebrity couples are said to have wed and wet the baby's head all in one weekend.

Baptism dates back to early Christianity when, just like a members' club, those wanting to join needed someone to vouch for them. The role of godparent was to be a mentor, and in a time of persecution when Christians had to be mindful of the motives of joiners, the godparent assured church elders that this person was, in fact, a believer.

But in an increasingly secular Ireland, where Mass-going is in decline and CSO figures predict that civil weddings may overtake church ceremonies by 2012, why are we still rushing to have our tots baptised?

Whether it's an earnest desire to have them welcomed into a faith, a concession to grandma or a box-ticking exercise to get little Jack or Sophie into the right school, these parents and godparents talk about what baptism and godparenting means to them.

Liadhan & Duncan

Liadhan and Duncan Cleary's first child, Freyja, was born in 2005 and they had a Catholic baptism for her in 2006. So why did the couple decide to do it?

"The religious bit definitely meant something to us," says Duncan. "And in choosing godparents, we wanted Freyja to have some sort of grounding in the faith."

The couple stepped outside the immediate family circle, inviting their best man and bridesmaid, Ryan and Sheena, back to the altar as godparents. Duncan's only brother Stephen had died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2006. "Ryan and me had been mates for 30 years," says Duncan. "He was really fond of Stephen and a great support to me when Stephen died. As Freyja's godfather, Ryan's like an honorary uncle to her now."

Fr Pat O'Donoghue, Director the Dublin Diocese Liturgical Centre, himself a godfather of three, says that the role of godparent is an important one. "In a baptism, godparents are asked if they will 'help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents'.

"It's a big job."

So did the couple give much thought to the religious leanings of the godparents? "We would do our best to be Christian," says Duncan "and Ryan and Sheena would be the same."

"For us though, it was also about choosing people whose approach to life we respected and admired," says Liadhan, "people who would be a good influence on Freyja. And you definitely want to choose someone who is going to walk over hot coals for your child, that's what you expect from a godparent!" says the Donegal native.

Daniel & Ciaran

Ringsend couple Ciaran and Lynn Simms welcomed daughter Katie in 2006, and while Ciaran says there was some weight of expectation from family that Katie be baptised, the couple was also keen on it themselves. "We just liked the idea of her being welcomed into a community."

While some parents will secretly admit that baptising their child is about giving them a passport to the right school, it wasn't so for the Simms family. "I've heard of that happening but it wasn't the case for us," says Ciaran. "I feel she'd have missed out on something if she wasn't baptised."

Ciaran kept it in the family, asking older brother Daniel to be Katie's godfather. So what does he expect of Daniel? "I don't interpret the role as one of religious guidance," says Ciaran. "In her godparents, we just want her to have other adults she can turn to and learn from apart from us."

And how does Daniel see the godfather role? "Day to day, I'm not sure if being Katie's godfather I do that much more than I would as her uncle. I see being a godfather as a responsive position. When she needs me, I'll be there."

Ciaran is also godfather to Daniel and wife Flora's son, Arthur. So what does Daniel expect of Ciaran? "We chose a family member because with friends, circumstances can take you in different directions," says Daniel. "As my brother, we knew that Ciaran would always be in Arthur's life.

"We're close anyway but being godparents to each other's kids reinforces the bond between our families."

Leonora & Trisha

For east Clare native Trisha Hannan, asking younger sister Leonora to be godmother to daughter Aisling was a no-brainer. "Leonora's just brilliant with kids. She takes a genuine interest in them and enjoys their company. I knew she'd make a great godmother."

Fr Pat O'Donoghue says that godparents need to give the job description some thought before accepting. "The ceremony specifically asks them: 'Will you help the parents?' The role is a choice, but it's also a responsibility."

Leonora seems to fit the bill. She says while she was delighted to be asked, she doesn't take the job lightly, "I was honoured of course, but I see being a godmother as a responsibility too."

Leonora, who her sister admits is godmother gold, sees Aisling (3) at least once a week, taking her to the cinema or the park. If Trisha and husband Pat want to get away for the weekend, Leonora takes Aisling overnight.

Trisha says that it's not just her sister's babysitting skills she values. "Leonora's really independent and strong. She's got a mind of her own and she's great fun too. She's a great role model for a little girl. We're delighted that she's such a big part of Aisling's life."

"She's a bit of tomboy now," says Leonora of her goddaughter. "I'm looking forward to taking her shopping when she's older, maybe even buying the debs dress together. There's a lot to look forward to."

Irish Independent

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