Mona Brereton died last Wednesday (October 2nd) She was born on April 24th 1916, which is more commonly known in Irish history as Easter Monday, the day the Easter Rising started. I have it in my head that she told me once that she was born in the Rotunda, only a few hundred yards from the GPO, where Pearse read out the Declaration of Independence and which was shelled continually from land and water over the next few days. My wife and mother-in-law say this was unlikely as most babies were born at home and only the well-to-do attended the world's first maternity hospital in those days. Still, it's a good story and I'm sticking to it.
It wasn’t a very large funeral. Mona never married. She had one brother who disappeared off the face of the earth, so her only other relations were her cousins’ children. She used to talk a lot about her relations in New Zealand and corresponded regularly with them. She even visited them on two or three occasions and they would visit her whenever they came over this part of the world.
The other members of the congregation consisted mainly of her neighbours, her carers and the family of the late Doctor Dempsey, for whom she worked for decades.
Her parents lived in Swords Street where she grew up and, indeed, ended her days, in No 32.
Mona began working at the doctor’s surgery in Manor Street in Dublin 7 when she was 16 in 1932. It wasn’t Dr. Dempsey at the time but an older man. I have no idea when Dr. Dempsey took over but I know that Mona worked with him for decades. Mona lived above the surgery at the time.
Dr. Dempsey’s son spoke about Mona at the funeral. She had been very much a part of the family and her and the doctor would bounce off each other. The two of them were one of the first to run the Free Drug Scheme, when they were both somewhat elderly and apparently they’d both be giving out yards about the difficulties of dealing with what was effectively a prototype of Pobal.
Mona retired in 1993. She had to leave the house in Manor Street but such was the affection in which she was held by the doctor’s family, that they purchased the little Artisan cottage in Swords Street that she had grown up in and gave it to Mona to live in till the end of her days.
I can’t claim to have known Mona well. My wife was born and reared in the house next to Mona’s and her parents still live there. They knew Mona for over half a century and Mona was a long-standing friend of the family. She told me she could remember my wife coming home from hospital in 19589 and crying continually. My mother-in-law used to spend long evenings in with Mona, chatting about this and that and the state of the world. My brother-in-law would do the same.
When we were moving house thirteen years ago now, there was a gap between selling our house and moving into the new one. We all moved in with my wife’s parents, though due to space constraints, it was decided that I would sleep in Mona’s.
I didn’t really know her that well. I knew she never forgot our children’s birthday and there was always a card with money in it at Christmas too. I’d visited her occasionally with my wife and mother-in-law but beyond a few pleasantries, nothing much had passed between us. So I was a bit apprehensive about how we’d get along.
I needn’t have bothered. Mona was so easy to chat to. I’d go in to her around 9pm and we stay up chatting until after 11pm. Most nights she’d get the whiskey out and we’d share a dram. Can’t for the life of me remember what we talked about but the conversation was always free-flowing. I remember asking her one time why she’d never married. “It just never happened,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. She used to refer to me as “her toy-boy” and wondered if the neighbours were scandalized by an 84 year old woman co-habiting with a much younger man. All of course said with that twinkle in her eye that was never far away.
It must have been about six or seven years ago that she started getting sick. She ended up in hospital a few times and by the end, she had had more than enough. She didn’t see the point in carrying on, there was no quality of life. She was a real Eleanor Rigby, the spark had gone and it was simply a matter of waiting till the end. She had home-help, who came in and did a bit of light cleaning and cooked her meals. She had a very good neighbor who came in to see her all the time, collected her pension for her, paid the bills. But He did her no favours, dragging it out for years until finally last Wednesday, she got relief. She is buried in Glasnevin with her parents.
I hope she has at last found the God she believed in implicitly.