MEETING Mallow woman, Bina McMahon, aged 80, in her cosy home surrounded by members of her family, I can’t help but be reminded of the nursery rhyme; ‘There was an old woman who lived in a shoe; she has so many children she didn’t know what to do!’
Bina, full of the joys of life, having had 11 healthy children with her late husband Jackie, thinks that is very funny.
“You could easily compare me to her!” she says laughing.
In Bina’s case, the well loved traditional nursery rhyme can be tweaked.
Bina has invited her latest great-grandchild Abigail, who is five days old, to join us. Abigail is one of Bina’s 43 beloved great-grandchildren.
That has to be a record?
“It could well be,” says Bina, who has 33 grandchildren.
Does she ever mix them up or get confused about who’s who?
“No, never,” she says.
Bina who is all about family, can keep track of all her grandchildren and great-grand-children. She always likes to know what they are up to and what they are doing.
“There’s a lot of them very sporty,” says Bina, who played camogie in her youth.
And there’s more to come... four new arrivals are expected in the New Year.
“I know all my grandchildren and my great- grandchildren very well and I really enjoy their company,” says Bina.
“I love it when the children come and visit me, even though in recent times during lockdown they could only come and sit on the wall outside the front door and talk to me while I had a cup of tea. They are all great to call,” says Bina.
“I am delighted the latest addition to the family, Abigail, is called after me.”
Bina, surrounded by love, knows she is one of the lucky ones.
“I am very lucky because all my family, except one, who lives in Dublin, are all around me and live near me. Some of my daughters live on this same road as me so we see a lot of each other! Siobhan, who was in the UK for 27 years, returned home and herself and her husband, Jim, built at the back of my house, so it is ideal.”
London boy Jim felt right at home.
“He knows more people here now than we do!” says Bina.
I imagine the family must have a lot of first cousins?
“We don’t have to imagine at all!” says Siobhan, laughing.
“We have loads and loads of cousins!”
Aine, who is the second youngest of Bina’s 11 children, says it wasn’t ideal when her mother sometimes mixed up her brothers and sisters when they were growing up.
“It was fine if you were called a girl’s name,” says Aine. “She often called us by our brother’s name!”
Bernadette, Kathleen, (Ka), Eileen, Mags, Padraig, Jim, Siobhan, John, Tadgh, Aine and Jacqueline had an idyllic childhood.
Bina and Jackie had an idyllic marriage for 43 years.
“I first met Jackie at a dance in Adare,” says Bina, who got married at 18.
He played hard to get.
“A friend of mine dared me to ask Jackie to dance. So I did.”
He refused her.
“He said, ‘I don’t dance!’”
Bina, originally from Killavullen, who was resilient and determined, wasn’t going to throw in the towel.
“I was helping out with the teas and coffees in the dance hall and I asked him if he’d like a cup of tea,” says Bina, laughing at the memory.
The couple didn’t hit it off then but they did hit it off soon after.
“I was working in Mallow and I met Jackie on the bridge. He said ‘Hello’ to me and we got chatting,” says Bina.
“A few weeks after that we went out together to the pictures.”
And the rest is history. A love story began, rooted in unconditional love that is still alive and well four generations later.
It must have been a busy household with the lucky 13 under one roof?
“You can say that again!” says Bina.
“Sean Moylan Terrace was always a wonderful place to live in. The neighbours were really wonderful and so were my in-laws.”
Caring was sharing.
“Everyone shared. There was no such thing as keeping up with the Joneses,” says Bina.
“As the girls got older, we passed on clothes to each other.”
The McMahon siblings remain close to this day.
“They often slept top-to-tail,” says Bina. “And there were few sets of bunk beds in the bedrooms. It was a lively house. It was never quiet!”
The neighbours often provided a safe haven for the McMahon children.
“Once, Jackie, the youngest, ran away with the dog. She was a real drama queen! All the time she was with our neighbour next door!”
There were lots of visitors welcomed to the McMahon home.
“When we went out at the weekends to dances, often our friends might miss the last bus home from the Majestic,” says Mags, the fourth eldest of the McMahon clan.
“We’d bring them home for the night to sleep. Sunday morning was sacred to dad who was up early getting ready for Mass. He ushered everyone out the front door to the church. One of Tadgh’s friends said; I haven’t been to mass in years. Dad replied; then today is your lucky day!”
What else used Jackie say?
“He’d say the rosary every evening at 6pm,” says Mags.
“If any of our pals called around then, dad would start the rosary again. They’d have to say the prayers too!”
Jackie, with a keen sense of fun, had another saying too.
“He’d say, you often ate the same sausage twice! That was for a cousin who was a fussy eater!”
Christmas must have been fun?
“I used to work in the post office,” says Bina. “I had a cleaning job there and I worked for the big socials in the hotel. I’d start putting away things for Christmas in January.
“Jackie was a postman and the local farmers were very good to him. He’d often come home with spuds and vegetables for dinner in the evening.
“At Christmas, we’d bring all the furniture in here to the sitting room. It was a full-blown operation! And there was never less than 20 for dinner.”
Jackie brought other people home.
“When the Foot and Mouth outbreak happened, he met a man in the local pub after he stopped in for a pint after work,” says Bina. “The man, who lived 12 miles from here, couldn’t get back to England where he was working. Jackie brought him home and he slept on the floor until he could travel again. Happy out!”
Jackie brought other things home.
“One Christmas dad got a present of a live turkey from a farmer,” says Mags.
“I remember he brought it home in a sack tied with twine. The bird’s head was sticking out of the top of the sack that was in the hall.”
The turkey became like one of their own.
“My son, Thomas, took a liking to the bird and it became like a pet for the grand-kids,” says Mags.
The turkey was destined for the McMahon dinner table.
“I remember Thomas came home and asked; where is the turkey?” says Mags.
“Dad opened the oven door and said; ‘it’s in here!’ Poor Thomas never ate his Christmas dinner that year!”
Bina was a good housekeeper and a good manager as well as working outside the home. There must have been a lot of washing to do?
“I remember working for the big socials to earn extra money,” says Bina.
“One of my good, kind neighbours took the money from me and saved it. ‘It won’t be long until you have the price of a twin-tub washing machine’,” she said.
And it wasn’t.
“We’d wash and dry and wear the outfit going out on Friday night!” says Mags.
Was there a lot of arguing among the girls over clothes?
“Once, Bernadette had Kathleen’s blouse on,” says Mags.
“Kathleen was in the phone box and Berndette ran down off the road to the phone box and she took the blouse off her!”
Bina must enjoy going to a lot of social outings and family gatherings?
“I always have a full diary with christenings, communions, confirmations, and birthday parties. I am ruined; spoilt rotten!” says Bina, delighted with life.
She has done a bit of travelling in her time.
“I went away to a hotel the first Christmas after Jackie died,” says Bina.
“When he was alive, he never minded me going off on holidays without him. I travelled to Canada, America and to Medjugorje. I have great faith which got me through some ups and downs in life.”
The McMahons often enjoyed holidays at home.
“In the summertime, myself and the neighbours would pack up lunches into a cart and head up to the Bullworks,” says Bina.
“We’d spend days on the mountains where the kids and their friends were safe. We had such a laugh. It is great to have beautiful memories of happy days. Often we’d go back to Killavullen to my parents for weekends and holidays. We all loved that.”
Bina says the family might not have had a whole lot in the material sense, but they had an abundance of love.
“I love anything to do with family,” says Bina.
She is not really like the old woman who lived in the shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
Bina knows exactly what to do.
“I love them all.”