For Irish Mammies at home, I hope ye were treated like Queens. However, if you are one of the Diaspora, many, not even your nearest and dearest, might know that 22 March is your special day. In France, where I live, Mother’s Day actually falls on Sunday 7 June.

As a member of the ‘Irish in France Association’ (IIF) and "Mná Na hEireann Paris," along with witnessing all the great craic, videos memes, and gifs, that the Irish women in France bolster fellow Mná with, I have been astounded by the level of creativity, craic and sheer hard work the Irish women are putting in while being confined with their families 24/7. Many live in apartments in Paris and other French cities, with young children and no gardens.

Since the 17 March French Coronavirus lockdown at noon, the Irish Mammies’ role, with required skills including patient disciplinarian, [Queen] Salomon like decision-maker, many handed Vishnu, court jester, teacher, confident and friend, has been frighteningly upgraded. For the duration of the confinement, their role is such a tough one that I doubt if even our great Fionn Mac Cumhaill with all his physical endurance and "Thumb of Knowledge" would have been able for it. For those living in the French countryside or with gardens, the pressure may be somewhat reduced; however, we are all living in the confinement of our own family circle, where the Irish Mammy, whether married to an Irishman or foreigner, is more than ever, at the helm with her Themis, (Greek goddess), accessories on her arm, and designer work bag banished to the 'press'. 

On the IIF site and exchanging with other Mná, I’ve seen the French-based Irish Mammy, who is normally out and about, adjust to being housebound, rolling up her sleeves, setting up family art workshops, cookery classes, storytelling times, quiz and game evenings to keep everyone entertained and from warring. I’ve also witnessed as they confiscate mobile phones, iPads etc. and put on their "specs", pouring over their children’s books, adopting the role of mentor and teacher for their children though French academic syllabuses. Most of us Irish mammies in France never went through the French school system and even the way English is taught as a subject seems a bit like Double Dutch! The French board of education is repeatedly warning that this crisis is not a school vacation and “The [Schooling] must go on!”

At 8 pm every evening I also see videos of the Irish Mammy, like figureheads representing the spirit of their homes, as they stand with their families on balconies, or at open windows around France, cheering the French health care workers who are on the front line, selflessly saving lives during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Although these times puts a lot of stress on family life, it can also bring people closer together. In my own house, my daughters (19 and 23) who would normally have been out on the town, helped prepare a home Paddy’s day and organized a quiz, where each of us had to prepare five "true or false" Irish facts. As the only one born on Irish soil I thought I was guaranteed an A+, but like all true/false fact quizzes, it can quickly become tricky! One bitter setback for my bad loser personality, was when I too rapidly marked ‘true’ to “it was on the summit of a mountain called Croagh Patrick that Saint Patrick fasted for thirty days”. Of course, I got zero; sure wouldn’t any ejit pay attention to the fact that it was forty not thirty days, religious and biblical references generally opting for 40 (or 7) over other numbers? I also got my "true" answer to the fact "the first recorded Viking attack on Ireland took place in 836" proved wrong; apparently it was in 795. For the moments of irritation and the moments of childlike joy when getting a few right answers, the Coronavirus was effaced from my mind. Irish music and dancing (just leaping around) with Irish shamrocks drawn on our faces, was also in vogue. 

In fact that 2020 house bound Paddy’s Day will probably always stay in my mind, with the 2018 and 2019 parades organized by IIF and of course along with the parades in Dublin as a youngster. I can strill remember the thrill of being dressed in my green best, getting my shamrock pinned on and my well reared older siblings hoisting whingy me up on their shoulders so that I too would see the fabulous floats, bands and dancers.

The comfort of home and family is often portrayed in poems by Irish poets and if it seems up till now, the Irish Mammy has won hands down the prize of top muse. In 2015 the poem ‘When All The Others Were Away at Mass’ by Seamus Heaney was proclaimed as Ireland’s favorite poem of the last 100 years, proving through Heaney’s beautiful, poignant words that the ‘Irish Mammy’ is the very epicenter of many of our homes. In this pandemic when the Irish Mammy’s role, has been drastically upped more notches, without prior warning, since war times, she is doing a Trojan’s job. Although we continually downplay our efforts and joke about tying up the children etc., today is actually the day to recognize our own worth and to give all Irish Mammies a virtual pat on the back.

So to all Irish mammies, on 22 March, whether it’s official or not in the country you’ve hung your hat in, have a great day and try to put your legs up. Since the lockdown, you have put into motion a whole alternative way of life and drawn from some deep well of ‘Mammy-hood’. Of course, there will be confinement related rows and tensions, but that's only normal. Mammies, know your strengths and efforts have been and are recognized. Mother’s day 2020 might leave a bigger imprint on our memories, and our family's memories, than other years when you could just go off to the pub or restaurant or pop in to see your own Mammies, your children's' Grannies, which is now out of the question...

Of course, many of “the Da's,” including my own French husband, are also going the extra mile; but today is our day, "Mammies Day". I hope ye’ll all be spoiled rotten. In lieu of perfume from Sephora or some other store-bought present, you might receive a poem or a drawing, see a home staged family performance or have a meal handed up. During this pandemic, many children may also live a similar 'one to one' moment to Seamus Heaney’s peeling potatoes moment with his Mammy, which will remain with them long after this pandemic has been relegated to history ....

‘When All The Others Were Away at Mass’ [1]

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

[1] “When all the others were away at Mass” from “Clearances” from Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney. 2014 paperback edition. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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