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This Man's Life: On seeing my late father's face on the fairy trails of Johnstown Estate...

 

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Johnstown Castle. Co Wexford. Photo: Chris Hill / Fáilte Ireland

Johnstown Castle. Co Wexford. Photo: Chris Hill / Fáilte Ireland

Johnstown Castle. Co Wexford. Photo: Chris Hill / Fáilte Ireland

My son Daniel turns one this Friday. A few days earlier, it's his grandad's birthday. Eighty-two years of age, he died on June 14, 2009. On that day, at 7.04pm, he was finally released from all the pain of a cruel cancer after five awful months, bravely borne, in the hospice in Harold's Cross.

At the funeral, my young godson Zack asked why Pete, as he called him, was no longer with us. "He's gone to God in Heaven," my mother Maureen told him.

"I want to go, too!" Zack, who turned 13 last weekend, demanded.

"You can go when you're an old man," Zack's mother Marina explained.

"I want to be an old man now!" Zack protested.

Peter Albert Egan was born on January 7, 1927; Daniel Hugh Peter Egan was born on January 11, 2018. It brings me a little bit of peace to think that my little son's birthday and my late father's birthday are a few days apart. It made me think of that line by the poet Kahlil Gibran: about life and death "being as one, even as the river and the sea are one".

This awakening happened to me on the fairy trail in Johnstown Estate in Enfield on New Year's Eve morning. And why not? The fairy trail in Johnstown Estate in Enfield on New Year's Eve morning is as good a place as any to have an awakening.

I was holding Daniel that morning when the sunlight through the trees caught his angelic face, and in that moment, he looked exactly like my late dad. It was like my dad was looking through my own son at me.

The magic of the morning continued when we all (my wife, my daughter Emilia, Daniel and I) sat down at the toadstools and had a mini picnic of yoghurt and fruit beneath a fairy's house in the forest.

We made wishes, too. We were supposed to keep it to ourselves, but Emilia, who will be four years of age on February 4, wished that it could be Christmas every day. I think we all have that wish.

Repast in the forest over, we spent nearly two hours looking for fairy doors before we went back into the hotel to have a hot chocolate by the toasty fire. We then had a swim in the pool. Emilia swam without her armbands for the first time - albeit in the baby pool. Her baby brother, clinging onto my chest, kicked his legs beside Emilia and smiled as he saw his mama swim past in the big pool.

We all had a swim together in the big pool before we returned to our lovely suite in the hotel. It was here, on New Year's Eve, that the kids did a remarkable thing and fell asleep, wiped out from the dip in the pool. The sound of silence was the most beautiful sound in the world for two hours.

There was no better sound. It was like I had asked the fairies in the wood nearby for it: that our children would sleep in the late afternoon.

This is, of course, a dangerously Catch 22 situation - because the longer you let them sleep for, the more difficult, perhaps, it will be to get them to sleep that night.

Be that as it may, we took the risk.

My wife read her book on the bed, while I watched It's A Wonderful Life, a triumph of love and hope over despair.

I remember Gabriel Byrne once sagely saying to me about It's A Wonderful Life that, despite what the character in the movie is going through, "he finds the faith to aspire towards something greater with the assistance of that angel who comes to help him. And that's what the film says: if you really look, you will find the angel of hope who will banish despair".

At 5pm on New Year's Eve, our two angels, Emilia and Daniel, woke up.

The silence was well and truly broken. We had told Emilia earlier that day that Mummy and Daddy were going out for dinner, and that a babysitter would be minding she and her brother. Her first words when she woke up were, terrifyingly: "I want to come to dinner with Mummy and Daddy." It took quite a bit of diplomatic manoeuvring (actually, bribery, involving ice-cream and a promise to bring her to the panto) to get out the door once the babysitter arrived at 7.30pm. But get out the door we did, with Emilia having some ice-cream and watching Peppa Pig and Daniel fast asleep in his cot. We enjoyed a fantastic meal at the Johnstown Estate's swish Fire & Salt restaurant. It was bliss to have no children for a few hours. Or, in my wife's case, an hour, as just as the delish-looking main courses arrived, the babysitter rang to say that Daniel had woken up.

The delish-looking main-courses of monkfish and fillet of beef returned to the kitchen for 45 minutes; the length of time it took Daniel to be soothed back to sleep. Daniel thus soothed, our food mercifully returned from the kitchen of Fire & Salt and my wife and I got to finally enjoy our meal. It was worth the wait. The main courses were indeed delish.

At 11.15pm, we were back in our room. We brought in the new year watching Bird Box on Netflix.

It was not worth the wait.

Sunday Independent