MAHON-BASED Marie McCarthy is not the kind of person that can sit passively in front of the television every night.
Describing herself as “a busy bee”, this mother of two grown-up children and grandmother to 21-month-old Freddie, knitted and crocheted 80 teddy bears, snowmen, owls and unicorns for children with cancer, in just three months.
It’s all part of the Blankets of Hope project organised by the Cork Cancer Centre, whereby volunteers knit soft blankets for small children with cancer. For those undergoing chemotherapy, coldness can be felt acutely and the blankets counter that.
Now, the children are given a teddy bear or other wool toy along with a blanket.
Since Blankets of Hope started in 2014, an amazing 20,000 of them have been knitted for children’s hospitals around the country.
Marie started knitting blankets at the behest of a friend of her daughter, Stacey.
“I knitted some blankets last Christmas. You can only do so many. Then I got into crocheting care bears and unicorns. I did them for a couple of friends and neighbours and put away the money I got for them to buy more wool. Then I made toys for a mother who has an autistic child.”
Given the popularity of her home-made toys, Marie, who has knitted the characters from the Harry Potter series as well as those from Star Wars. decided to make them on a big scale for the children’s charity.
Setting herself a high target, Marie planned to make 100 of the toys in the three months leading up to Christmas, but didn’t quite make it. Now, she has set herself a very ambitious target (which she doesn’t want to disclose publically just yet), and is already working her magic with a crochet needle for Christmas, 2020.
“I have to be doing something,” says Marie. “I’m a retired dress maker (who also worked in Tesco at Mahon Point). I’m not working any more in that sense as I’m a carer for my husband (who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Alpha 1).
“It’s just me having the time to be able to give back and it’s a pleasure to do it. But I’m very shy and I don’t want to be in the limelight or anything. I had to be pushed into having my photo taken for Facebook. I can’t understand why people are getting so excited about it because, to me, it’s just a simple act.”
Marie first started knitting when she was pregnant with her son, Ricky, now aged 37.
“I taught myself how to knit. Then, about eight years ago, I got into the crochet. I find it way easier and faster than knitting. My daughter would be a flier at it, speed-wise. I just take it nice and easy as I have the time.”
Marie crochets in all the colours of the rainbow and loves using mixed-colour wool, which she buys at Aldi. She spreads her wool toys across the couch in her front room.
“My grandson gets up on the couch and grabs one of the unicorns by its curly hair, drags it around the house and hugs and kisses it. He loves the soft toys.”
Adept at knitting and crocheting, Marie started dressmaking when she was only 12 years of age.
“My mam had an old Singer sewing machine. I’ve always had a fascination with the way things work. There was no electricity with the sewing machine. It was a manual one. I made a pants and a blouse, using old-fashioned patterns. Then I got a job in Janelles in Togher, which has been gone since 1980. They made trench-coats which were mass produced. I did my trade there.”
Marie, who had been doing a lot of dress-making on the side, started working at it full time. Then, 15 years ago, she started to work at Tesco “for a change”, She took redundancy from her retail job there four years ago.
“I gave up Tesco because my husband, Denis, collapsed and ended up in CUH. With COPD, your breathing can become very tight. My husband found it hard to breath and to walk. He was in hospital for ten days. He got a fright.
“I was going back and forth and decided to be his full-time carer. I loved my job but at the same time, I’m great at taking care of people. Denis is OK once he sticks to the rules and takes his medication and uses the nebuliser four times a day. He can’t go out in extremely cold weather. He loves to drive because he was a driver all his life. The drive up to Limerick to collect our grandson and bring him back is something he loves. It’s his sanity.”
Marie combines her caring role with crocheting.
“I can make the toys because it doesn’t take a whole week to clean a house. I’m still a person that gets up at dawn.”
Plenty of time then to crochet toys on a grand scale for sick children throughout 2020.
To find out more about the Blankets of Hope, see Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blanketsofhopecork/
Or to contact Cork Cancer Centre see http://www.corkcancercarecentre.ie/
From snowmen to unicorns, owls and teddy bears, Marie McCarthy has made beautiful gifts for children with cancer — in just three months, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN