Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Papal Baby

Those of you who are old enough to remember the 70's, will probably remember where you were when Pope John Paul II came to Ireland.  I can clearly remember 5 year old me sitting on the bottom step of the stairs in my parents house, crying my eyes out.  I wasn't overcome with emotion at the presence of the Pope in Ireland.  Rather, I was gutted that I had a new baby brother and not the baby sister that I longed for.  I already had two brothers.  Enough for any girl.

Eoin Paul Russell was born on 29th September 1979, around the time that JP was making an appearance in Drogheda.  His birth was even mentioned in the newspapers.  After giving birth, my mother queued up for a pay phone to call her mother.  As her money was running out, my mother had to interrupt my Nana talking about JP to quickly tell her that she has a new grandson.

Meanwhile, I spent a few very boring days, going from house to house with relations with nothing but wall-to-wall television coverage of the Papal visit.  JP Mania had well and truly gripped Ireland.  It wasn't all praying though - I have it on good authority that at least one indecent incident between one young couple happened under a currach in Galway, while en route to see the man himself.

As a result of the mania, the country is now flush with fellas in their mid thirties, imaginatively called Eoin/Owen/Eoghan, Eoin Paul, John Paul, JP. I met a neighbour recently, called John Paul.  I asked him if he was born the year that the Pope came to Ireland.  He said 'no, I was born the year that he was shot', which I remembered with a much greater sense of wonder.

That, and JR getting shot in Dallas.

Being five years older than Eoin, I took on much of his child care.  He was a lovely baby.  I changed his nappy.  I fed him.

I was there when he took his first steps in the garden under the swing.  Proud as punch I was. And who knows, without me, he might only still be crawling ?

When he went to school, I was often landed with the job of helping him with his spellings and tables.  A mammoth task as he spent most of his time gazing out the window/at the ceiling/anywhere but at the page.  It was TORTURE.  I get flashbacks to this now, reading through homework with my easily distracted son who reminds me of Eoin as a child.

I got my own back on Eoin though, using him as my fashion guinea pig, allowing me to dress him up in ensembles of my own making.

Although I say 'allowed me', I don't think that I gave him any choice in the matter.  He seemed happy enough to pose for photos though, so I'm not expecting him to sue me for sibling abuse at this late stage.

It is strange though, that Eoin let me dress him up and yet fought with my mother about wearing new clothes.  You almost had to drive over them with a mucky tractor before he would consider trying them on.  And funnily enough, my boy has similar tendencies now.  Those flipping genes again.

He scared the life out of us when he peddled his toy tractor straight onto the road outside my parents house when he was aged about three.  He was hit by a car.  I can still hear my mother's screams. Thankfully his toy tractor took the worst of the impact and after a few days monitoring in hospital, he was fine.

Growing up on a farm doesn't mean that you are naturally drawn to animals, but Eoin was.

He spent much of his childhood cuddling and tending to sick and terminally ill animals, no shite-covered cow too smelly, no puss-filled abscess too gruesome.

He was also the designated injection giver and the put-your-hand-up-a-cows-bum guy, while the rest of us would run a mile.  Growing into a giant of a man, he could carry small animals, when others might have needed a trailer.  

Getting away from farming life, Eoin studied in Dublin and stayed in a flat beneath mine on the North Circular Road.  Finding it hard to cut the motherly ties, I made him dinners, for fear that he might fade away.  Little chance of that as he ate like a horse.  My cooking was boot camp style though.  I didn't tolerate the 'won't eat onions/vegetables/will only eat chicken nuggets every day for a week' demands that my mother did.

If there was angry words, it was when I went to my fridge, looking for my lunch, running out the door for a hectic days teaching to find that Eoin had got there first and the cupboard was bare.  No wonder we called him 'Eoin of the Seven Dinners'.  And no wonder that he grew to a six foot plus lad and I remained a short ass.

Despite the clear-your-fridge-without-asking-you tendencies, Eoin was and is a thoughtful and generous kind of guy.  I remember one Christmas Eve when he landed home on the bus from Dublin with gifts, plus a new toilet seat and a huge lump of frozen ham for my Mam.

Fast forward to today, the eve of Eoin's 35th birthday.  To this day, I can see how I have influenced him.

He still eats onions.

He still remembers how to spell and count.

He has a dapper sense of style - influenced no doubt by all that dressing up in scarves and braces.

I never got my longed for baby sister, but each of my brothers landed themselves with lovely wives and partners, so I kind of got my sisters in the end, without all the bickering over toys and clothes.

Eoin is now the father of 4 very cool children with a lovely partner.  All grown up.  But he will always be my baby bro.

Happy birthday kid x


  1. That is a lovely sisterly tribute to your brother!

    1. Thanks Gwen. Funny how it's easier to say it all in a blog !