17 Jan 2022

Democrat editor pays tribute to her mum on International Women's Day

Democrat editor pays tribute to her mum on International Women's Day

Michelle O'Keeffe with her mum Joan and sister Lisa

She could re-wire a plug in record time, do every DIY job on her list, cook the best macaroni cheese and roast chicken dinner ever and always knew exactly when we needed a hug. She was our mum.

As the Democrat pays tribute to just some of the inspiring Louth ladies for International Women's Day, I remember the most important woman in my life, my inspiration, my mum Joan O'Keeffe (nee Prendergast), who married the love of her life John (JJ) O'Keeffe.

They went on to have two daughters, myself and my little sister Lisa, who will always be my little sister, despite being a strong, independent woman and amazing mum herself now.

Our mum found herself in the nightmare of being a young mum left on her own to raise a seven-year-old and a two-year-old when our dad, her husband and soulmate passed away.

There are no words I could use to even try to begin to describe the pain and loss our mum felt, but I know from watching her as a child she had lost her best friend, her team-mate and her life partner.

There were of course dark times, when I am sure she wondered how she would go on without our dad, but she did, she got up every morning and was always there for us without fail.

Now as I write this nearly a decade older than she was when dad passed away, I can't even begin to imagine where she found her strength.

We were too young to really know, but I am sure at times she didn't feel strong or brave enough to put one step in front of the other, but she did and that was with the help of her lifeline, her sisters, her family, her friends, her neighbours.

She always had her female tribe. She was never alone.

Mum packed everything up from our home in Dublin and headed home to Dundalk, where she had grown up and where so many of our family lived and still do.

She built a life for us, not just a life, an amazing life.

We had sad times but we had great times, happy times, fun times all thanks to our clan of strong, beautiful, opinionated, funny, loving, kind, amazing women - and of course men (but it is today we celebrate the women).

We always knew we had a network, but we were also the three amigos - these three females who were taking on the world in our own way.

Our mum was beautiful - I am sure many men that remember the Pavilion dance hall in Blackrock can vouch for this - the Prendergast sisters from Cocklehill turned a head or two in their day.

Our mum was also kind, generous, nurturing, encouraging, feisty, determined, strict at times, but always loving.

She would give out to you for not washing the dishes properly - which she never really let us do because of her 'if you want a job done right do it yourself' attitude - but if the mood took her she would teach us how to jive around the kitchen as a tape bought in some supermarket blared out the tunes of her youth.

There were summer holidays with uncles, aunts and cousins where mum squealed in terror and delight after being convinced her pony would be well behaved and docile and agreed to go on that pony trek.

The rolling of her brown eyes at me as a child after she laid a beautiful table for tea after a long walk with moaning children when yet again, I spilt the jug of juice over the tablecloth, becoming a running family joke.

And in my teenage years when I dared to come home in the early hours of the morning hours after a night out, the creaking floorboards would always give me away, resulting in her vigorously hoovering my bedroom early Sunday morning and being march to mass.

But there was always the roast chicken dinner later that day and an unspoken forgiveness.

Above all she taught myself and my sister how to always believe in ourselves, overcome obstacles, embrace the best of times, live through the worst of times, and always try our best to live our lives to the fullest and love with the biggest of heart those who love you.

She also taught us the strength of a female tribe - the aunts, cousins, nieces, and friends that are always there when you need a shoulder to cry, rant with over a bottle of wine, stand by you when you think you can't stand on your own, defend you and most importantly dance around a kitchen or dancefloor with like you haven't a care in the world.

She might not be here with us anymore, passing away 20 years ago, but I can still hear her voice, and remember her warm hug and even the taste of her macaroni cheese.

I don't know what she would make of the lockdown we are all in now, I know she would hate to be separated from family and friends, but I know she would have had the resilience and strength to endure it until it is over.

So, to all the women out there, always remember that it is not just on International Women's Day that we are all amazing, it is every day.

And we will all see each other again on the other side of this pandemic and celebrate together as only women can!

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