Cork chef supports women's refuge as tribute to his late mother

Ahead of Mother’s Day this Sunday, a Cork-based chef remembers his own mum who has inspired him to help families being supported by Edel House, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Cork chef supports women's refuge as tribute to his late mother

Bryan Clarke and mum Carol.

“MY mother was a very strong woman,” says Bryan Clarke, who recalls waking up in a woman’s refuge at age four wondering why his daddy wasn’t there.

“In the early 1980s, not many women with three kids would be brave enough to leave home having nowhere to go.”

It wasn’t the done thing.

“It would have been frowned upon,” agrees Bryan, whose childhood experiences have motivated him to support the woman’s refuge, Edel House.

On December 25, he made sure every child at Edel House woke up to find presents and enjoy a Christmas dinner.

“Fleeing the family home, you would have been disowned by the community and the Catholic church. You weren’t allowed to go to church,” says Bryan, recalling his childhood.

“Your own neighbours disowned you. What my mam did in the ’80s, it wasn’t done.”

Carol, who sadly passed away aged 57 last April, didn’t care about any of that. She cared only about her children, Bryan, his brother and sister, all aged under four at the time.

“It wasn’t working out between herself and my dad,” says Bryan, originally from Cavan, who is head chef with the Briar Rose Bar and Grill in Douglas, Cork.

Bryan Clarke and mum Carol.
Bryan Clarke and mum Carol.

“Mam took us way in the middle of the night and put us on the first bus to Dublin,” says Bryan.

“We had no family in Dublin, no money, only the bus fare.

“There were no shelters in Cavan or anywhere close to it.”

Carol, a strong, brave woman, didn’t falter in her bid to seek out a refuge for herself and her children.

Where did she get her strength from?

“She always said Tina Turner inspired her when Tina left Ike,” says Brian with a smile.

Carol looked high and low for room at the inn.

“The nearest she could find was in Rathmines in Dublin. I remember it was dark when we were getting on the bus.”

It is easy for any mother to imagine what Carol went through to protect her family, far from home, alone, and uncertain in the dark of night.

“I still have memories of it,” says Bryan.

“We were in a room with four bunk beds, sharing the room with four other families. Each family had one bunk bed. Accommodation was a bit cramped!”

Did Byran feel safe and secure then?

“Yes,” he says. “We were in sheltered accommodation for about one year, first in Rathmines and then in Navan so mam could be closer to home.”

Some memories stand out more than others.

“I remember going to school and getting milk and scones.

“One day, a double-decker fun bus arrived at the shelter with a clown, painting faces and playing games. I missed out because I had the chicken pox!”

Carol with granddaughter Nola and Bryan's wife  Emily.
Carol with granddaughter Nola and Bryan's wife  Emily.

Did Bryan miss his father?

“I missed my daddy. I couldn’t understand that my father wasn’t behaving the way a father and husband should behave and that’s why my mam had to leave.”

Some times were harder than others for the little boy.

“When a kid doesn’t have both their parents on Christmas morning, it’s hard either way.”

It is hard to leave home too.

“People going to these places are running with just the clothes on their back,” says Bryan.

“They’re not packing everything up. They are leaving with nothing.”

Carol packed up her troubles and got back on her feet. “Mam was a great woman,” says Bryan.

“She always put us first.”

Things began to look up.

“We were eventually offered our own accommodation and we moved in one winter,” says Bryan.

“But just three weeks before Christmas, a fire ripped through the house, destroying everything. Everything inside was damaged.

“Mam had worked two jobs, cleaning and catering, to try and provide for us and all our Christmas toys, our clothes. Her savings were suddenly gone.”

The family were back to square one.

“That was our second year in a refuge after losing everything,” says Bryan. 

“I remember volunteers from St Vincent de Paul bringing toys to the children that year.”

Bryan who has lasting memories of his wonderful mother, decided he was going to take action just like she did.

“I wanted to give back something in honour of her,” says Bryan.

At Christmas, he made sure the children in Edel House and all the families it helps stay in B&B’s and hostels received a present, a selection box and a Christmas dinner. Bryan and his team collected hundreds of toys for the children.

Bryan Clarke with wife Emily and daughter Nola.
Bryan Clarke with wife Emily and daughter Nola.

“Mums got treated too!” says Bryan.

Presents of jewellery, hair straighteners and gift sets were a lovely surprise for the mums. Bryan, his wife Emily, and their daughter, Nola, cooked 250 ham and turkey dinners to distribute on Christmas Day.

Bryan, a giver like his mother, keeps on giving, reaching out to people in need.

“I was close to my mother, even though I was the only one who moved away,” says Bryan. “Cork is my second home and I love Douglas.

“The Briar Rose is calling on all Corkonians to come together to help the homeless,” says Brian.

“We launched a campaign called ‘ROTA’, reach out to another. We are asking the community to donate sandwiches, crisp, snacks, bottles of water or soft drinks along with clean good condition men’s and women’s winter jackets, sleeping bags and gloves. Goods can be dropped to the Briar Rose.”

Collection day is the last Sunday between 12pm and 4pm of each month in the Briar Rose.

“Then the ROTA team will deliver to the homeless outside the Ulster Bank on Patrick Street on the following Monday night at 7pm. People can get hot soup, tea, and coffee outside the PO on Oliver Plunkett Street then as well,” says Bryan.

“Hopefully, we can make things a little more comfortable for homeless people, especially in the cold weather.”

Bryan, doing good things for less fortunate people, will always remember what his mother did for him.

“Other people see my passion to help the homeless,” he says.

“My pals, my boss and his son have been more than generous in their sponsorship.”

“The extension at Edel House will have 20 new suites to accommodate people. We must all try to help out.”

Times have changed since the 1980s.

“Thank God times have changed, but we’re still in 2021 with nine counties that do not have a refuge or sheltered accommodation for women and children, which is crazy,” says Bryan.

“It is a disgrace in this day and age that nine counties in Ireland do not have a place where a woman can go in her hour of need.”

His mum Carol did what she needed to do when times got tough.

“I’m glad she found some of happiness, even though it was short-lived,” says Bryan.

Carol died too young.

“She developed lung problems and she got double pneumonia.”

She was a special mama bear who looked after every cub.

“She looked out for everyone,” says Bryan.

“She cared for a little boy near us called Brian.

Anyone who knocked on the door was welcomed in and fed.”

Carol’s caring nature was acknowledged when she died.

“People lined the streets on the way to Lakelands crematorium Kingsfort, Cavan, and for two miles outside the town,” says Bryan.

“Even though mam hadn’t lived in the locality for more than 35 years, everyone remembered her kindness. That’s pretty amazing.”

Bryan cherished his mother and he says everyone should cherish theirs.

“I’d advise people to pick up the phone and speak to their mothers often,” he says.

“I wish I did that a lot more. I think sometimes I didn’t call her enough. It’s so easy to get into a routine where the days roll into weeks and the weeks roll into months when you haven’t spoken to your mother.”

Bryan’s kindness and generosity in helping less fortunate people than himself speaks for itself.

“I know what it’s like to wake up in a refuge,” says Bryan.

“People come into a shelter at their lowest point. They think it’s the end of the world, but it’s not. It’s the start of a new life. 

"They’ve done the right thing for themselves and their kids. They just need some support until they’re strong enough to make it on their own again.”

Bryan has one last journey to make with his mum, when things get back to normal.

“We are going on one last family holiday together!” says Bryan.

“Mam’s last wishes were that her ashes would be scattered in Dun a Ri Park, Kingscourt, and in the Aegean Sea. Mam’s birthday was February 19 , her first birthday in heaven.”

“I think she’d be proud of me,” says Brian.

Edel House Grattan St, Centre, Cork. Phone: 021-4274240

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