Happy Birthday Mom

A tweet from Hillary Clinton’s account appeared on my timeline yesterday. She spoke about her mother, who told her that “No-one gets through life alone”. Like everyone else in.the.world., I was looking forward to the end of this election campaign. Today, 9 November, was supposed to be a big day for women, but while we try to get our heads around that situation, I’m going to focus on the woman who could make “No-one gets through life alone” her personal motto. That’s my mother, Mary McCarthy, who celebrates her birthday today. You wouldn’t think it to look at her, but this vivacious, enthusiastic, surprising woman is turning 60.


Photo courtesy of Mom’s friend as evidence that she managed to stay dignified in the presence of balloons and a singing waiter

So in her honour, here’s a birthday post about the 6 most important things about Mary McCarthy, things that have shaped me and anyone who has come in contact with her. I could have written 60 things about her, but eventually I would have to mention her love of chocolate-covered rice cakes and a banana for tea, and that would be too much.

She expects the best

A lot of people go through life with cynicism, waiting to be caught out and assuming the worst of everyone they meet. This is not Mom’s way. She meets people with a smile on her face, without judgement or mistrust, making them feel comfortable and welcome, so even the most hardened individual has warm memories of her. I don’t want to make her sound too angelic, because no-one is (let’s remember the chocolate-covered rice cakes for perspective), but this is a quality that is underestimated and underused in society.

Her belief in exercise and fresh air as the cure for all ailments


One day last week, I was feeling especially low. I couldn’t shake the black dog, so I decided to take him for a walk. Out in the woods around Tervuren, I felt a bit lighter and cheerier. Everything seemed more manageable. Without even speaking to her, I anticipated the solution that Mom would advocate. Before healthy living became a trend, when drivers would stop to offer us a lift if they saw us out for a walk, she had us convinced of the benefits of daily exercise. The only time I recall suffering because of her lifestyle was when I was hungover after my sister’s 21st birthday party, and there was nothing greasy in the house beyond toast or Digestive biscuits with Benecol “butter spread”.

Her enthusiasm

When it comes to Mary McCarthy, nothing is done in a half-hearted way. When she reads a good book, she raves about it in such a way that you want to go out and buy it there and then, but you can’t, because she wants you to read her copy. When she goes on a trip, she sends a missive from some foreign coffee shop, making you feel like you are sitting beside her and yet not resentful of the fact that you aren’t on the trip. When she tells a story about a seemingly mundane event, there are so many tangents, observations and impressions that you begin to wonder if you are doing life properly.

She looks after us

I remember a walk with Mom when I was small(er). She always walked on the outside and I asked why. She said that it was to protect me from any oncoming cars that might be driving too fast. From then on, I begged her to let me walk by the cars, because “If anything happens to you, I’ll have to look after everyone”. More than 20 years later, this is still a concern. Even though we are all away from home now, Mom keeps her tabs on us. While busy living her own life, she also finds time to fit in our concerns. She dog-sits for Diarmuid, helps Jack decide how many t-shirts he needs for 6 months in Peru (four apparently), counsels Grace and dropped everything last year to look after me when I got out of hospital (among so many other things).

She is a listener

Anyone can listen, but Mom knows how to do it properly. She knows when it is time to give input, what to say and when to say it (if at all). Be sure to keep her attention though. If you lose her, she will end up listening to the conversation at the next table, leaning ever so slightly in their direction, with a glazed look in her eyes.

She met Dad


I’m incredibly lucky to have two fantastic parents, who are crazy about each other, laugh at each other’s jokes and love spending time together. They are my friends and the people I look up to the most in the world. I could go on, but this is getting too mushy. In the words of Bell X1, they make me feel glad to be be human.

Mom is subscribed to my blog and throughout my travels in Canada and the US this year, would always email me feedback and support. I like the idea of her opening her email this morning and seeing the title of this post. It’s no birthday card, but will last until the weekend.

Love you, Mom. Happy 60th birthday!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sean McCarthy says:

    I am sitting in Zurich airport reading this. My eyes are all watery. Must freshen up before my next 2 flights. Mom was supposed to be with me on this trip but ‘events’ prevented it. Will celebrate with her at the weekend.


    1. Be cool, Dad. We will have a lovely weekend!


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