Cora Staunton: Three days after we buried my Mam, I played in a club game
In exclusive extracts from her new autobiography, Cora Staunton gives her take on the row that has divided Mayo and tells how the death of her mother and rumours affected her life
My elder brothers and sisters realised a lot sooner than Brian and I that Mam was dying. It was in April 1998 when things really started going downhill. There were times when Mam was contrary because of all the medication she was on, and we knew by the start of the summer that the chances of her pulling through were slim. I never gave up hope that she was going to get better though, even in her final weeks. It just didn’t feel real, the possibility of her not being around.
On July 9, 1998, the doctors rang Dad and told him there wasn’t much time left, and that we should make our way to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar. We stayed there for two days, rotating between Mam’s room and the corridor. We didn’t want her to be on her own when she went so we made sure someone was by her side all the time. I remember it was late on a Friday night, and my eldest brother, Peter, drove Brian, myself and my cousin Sandra down to Supermac’s on the Westport Road because we hadn’t eaten all day. It was 2am, the nightclubs had just emptied, and there were drunken bodies falling through the doors for a late-night snack. The novelty and carnage of it kept us entertained. And then the phone rang.
“Peter, ye need to come back.”
An hour later, at 3am, Mam passed away. We were all in the room, by her bedside. Eventually, at 5am, we left the hospital. The rising sun and fresh air dried our tears. At home, in the sitting room, we assembled Mam’s pull-out bed. And there, five of us curled up and cried ourselves to sleep.
On the morning of the funeral I found out that my Mam, Mary Staunton, had been adopted. Myself and Brian overheard someone say it in passing in the kitchen. But I didn’t think anything of it. I was just trying to cope with Mam’s passing, full stop. Mam never talked about it to me, but what we do know is that she was adopted legally at the age of ten by Michael and Kate Summersville in Clonbur. We think she was with the family as early as five, but I have no huge desire to find out any more than that. Mam had told her friends that she didn’t want to know who her real parents were, so why would I want to know? That was her decision, and I’m going to respect that.
Standing at the graveside on the day of the funeral, I remember the coffin being lowered down. Vincent Keane was by my side with his giant arms wrapped around me. Like Beatrice and Jimmy, Vincent and Sally Keane were a huge support at that time. It was lovely to have people around, and I needed them. I was so confused. I was angry, and I was numb. We all were.
It was Sheena, Collette and Kathleen who carried the family in the aftermath of Mam’s passing. Kathleen left college to mind myself and Brian. As a family, we were a mess. It took us well over a year to get any sort of structure back in our lives, and even then there was still a void that we all tried to fill by keeping busy. “Don’t cry when I’m gone,” Mam used to say. We tried, we really did, but it was an impossible ask.
Mam was dead 20 years on July 11, 2018, and Dad is still as bad as ever. For two decades he’s been both our mother and father, and he’s done an incredible job. We don’t talk about that, or about Mam all that much, but you remember the good times, and you just keep going. I was angry with life. And, to an extent, I was angry that sport had dragged me away from Mam at a time when I could and should have been spending more time with her. That feeling made me resent football, and to a point resent myself. I started drinking and smoking, and hanging around the community centre, not giving a s**t. It was hard to get my focus back because I didn’t see the point.
When I returned to school that September, a lot of the kids didn’t know my Mam had died because they weren’t from my locality. I went into fifth year grieving, and the vice-principal, Sister Brenda, was the only one I really remember who got it. She was as strict as anything, but maybe she was more at peace in dealing with death. It was difficult because I always felt like people were looking at me differently. I could sense the pity off them, and it hovered over me for months. I kept to myself. I didn’t talk to people about how I felt, and I didn’t go to counselling. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, but that’s how I coped. Yes, I got lonely, but I just got on with it. Mentally, did that make me a stronger person? I think it did. Have I dealt with it? I’ll never really know. All I know is, life moved on, and I went with it.
Three days after we buried Mam, I played in a club game. Beatrice and Jimmy conspired to get me out as soon as possible. There’s compassion, and then there’s mollycoddling. They knew I’d run a mile from the latter, so they pretended that they were in dire need of players, and it worked. The game was a blur, yet for 60 minutes, the numbness went. Just the simplicity of running after a ball, catching it and kicking it made things bearable.
Three weeks later, we lost the 1998 minor All-Ireland final to Monaghan, and for the first time ever the misery of defeat didn’t enter my head. At that time football was an escape, but it no longer consumed me the way it had before. It was a shred of normality in a world turned upside down.