My birthday to

As her daughter’s fifth birthday party was cancelled, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Cork mum IRENE HALPIN LONG knew she had to make it an extra special day... so she called in family, friends and neighbours.... and even roped in the Blarney Brass and Reed Band
My birthday to
Saoirse age 5 with her homemade colouring book made by her cousins Nicole and Sarah to mark her birthday.

I WAS so excited to celebrate Saoirse’s fifth birthday.

There is something extra special about a child turning five. It’s the first birthday they will properly remember.

It marks a major milestone in a child’s life; the year they start primary school. Five-year-olds have an acute sense of their own independence and treasure friendships with other children their age.

The countdown to our daughter’s birthday began in February. The excitement was palpable. Saoirse spoke incessantly about her upcoming birthday party.

She listed off the names of all her friends who were coming to celebrate with her. She asked her Grand Aunt who is a chef to make her a Shimmer and Shine cake (her favourite cartoon characters). She checked that Nana and Gaga (Grandad) would be able to come. She picked out her birthday dress for her party.

Then, Covid-19 measures were introduced and life for everyone changed.

For me and her father, it was easy for us to rationalise that life as we knew it was coming to a temporary halt. Explaining the threat of the virus to our daughter was a complex matter.

Using age appropriate language, we tried our best to explain why she couldn’t go to playschool, why she couldn’t play on the green in our estate with her friends, why daddy now worked upstairs. At times, she seemed to understand. Sometimes, she displayed anxiety and shed a tear because her life was becoming so much smaller.

Seeing the disappointment on her face when we told her that her birthday party would need to be postponed until later in the year was difficult. In truth, it broke my heart.

Of course, I knew that it wasn’t the end of the world. There are so many other people whose experiences of the Covid-19 lockdown are harrowing. We are among the fortunate ones. We have a warm home, food in the fridge, and above all, we have each other.

I was so proud of my daughter. She told me she was sad that her party was cancelled but she said it was OK. Her expression of disappointment didn’t match her resilient words. I decided to do what all good parents do; I started telling fibs to reduce her feelings of distress.

I told Saoirse that when a child in Ireland turns five that everyone in the country gets a text message telling them the name of the birthday girl or boy and mummy’s phone number. Everyone in Ireland celebrates the five-year-old’s birthday at the same time and they send birthday messages and Happy Birthday videos to mummy to show the birthday girl or boy.

I play flute with the Blarney Brass and Reed Band, so I asked my friends in the band to record a video of themselves playing ‘Happy Birthday’ on their instruments. My fellow musicians did not disappoint. My phone pinged repeatedly, heralding a plethora of videos; Marie playing trumpet, Marcus on clarinet; Fritz serenading Saoirse on guitar with his version of Edelweiss; Diarmuid and Teresa duetting and playing piano; Stefan’s jazz piano rendition of Happy Birthday.

Some of the cards Saoirse received in the post.
Some of the cards Saoirse received in the post.

Young flautist, Lorna, sent Saoirse a gif of a cute mouse eating a birthday cake. Flautist Alison and oboist Matilda posted her a homemade card. Saoirse was stunned, smiling at each video and message sent. Her main response was “your friends are so very kind and they are good at playing the Happy Birthday song.”

I am part of a writing group so I asked my writing friends to pen a poem for her. Alison, Ian and Mairead wrote three beautiful poems for her; bespoke mementos that she can keep for a lifetime.

Her family and our friends didn’t let her down. We usually receive bills in the post. In the run up to Saoirse’s birthday, the postman delivered bundles of cards and letters from grandaunts, cousins, uncles, grandparents and friends of Craig and I.

Saoirse ripped the envelopes open with such enthusiasm that some of the homemade cards had to be sellotaped back together before we put them out on display in the sitting room.

She opened each card, pored over the messages before looking at me, saying, “Mummy, I can’t read yet. What does it say?”

On the day of her birthday, our neighbours, the O’ Riordan’s and the Buckley’s, left gifts at the front door for her.

Her little friends (with the help of their grown-ups) Facetimed her to wish her Happy Birthday, promising that they would see each other soon and celebrate her birthday later on.

We are so grateful to our friends and family for their displays of love and affection towards Saoirse on her fifth birthday.

Us three, Saoirse, mummy and daddy, woke early. We watched Saoirse open her presents with glee. Later in the day we had a birthday tea, with cake and treats.

It may not have been what we had originally planned, but I hope out daughter remembers her fifth birthday for all the right reasons, and knows that she is dearly loved.

Seeing the disappointment on her face when we told her that her birthday party would need to be postponed until later in the year was difficult.... it broke my heart.

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