Cork mum of 9: I’m always busy... never lonely

Ahead of Mother’s Day, CHRIS DUNNE catches up with Cobh-based mum of nine, Gill Ireland to talk about her busy household
Cork mum of 9: I’m always busy... never lonely

Mum of nine Gill Ireland with daughters Freya and Skyler.

GILL Ireland, a 46-year-old mother of nine from Cobh, says the best thing about having a big family is that you’re never alone.

“I can’t move but there’s always one or two of them with me,” says Gill, laughing, who looks remarkably young and fresh given that she has given birth to nine children.

“Even when I’m in the toilet, there’s usually someone waiting outside the door calling my name!” jokes Gill, who has lived in Old Parish for the last 15 years.

Kristjan aged 21 and Colby, aged four.
Kristjan aged 21 and Colby, aged four.

She introduces me to the famous nine...

“Kristjan is the eldest; he’s 21,” says Gill.

“He is the only one not living at home currently because he’s doing an apprenticeship in Dublin. When he’s home he is a great help. He’s brilliant, he’ll hoover, clean windows, bring in the messages from the car, and he often minds the younger ones.”

Soren is 20. Freya, 17, is with her mum and sister, Skyler, aged 15, today, and Freya is doing her Leaving Cert this year.

“I’m doing my Junior cert, says Skyler.

“We are both doing our exams through Irish.”

Who’s next in line?

“Iseult is 10, Rainer is 8, Ryker is 7, Bonnie is 5, and my baby Colby is 4,” says Gill without taking a breath.

She has a good memory.

“If you had babies all around 10 pounds, you’d remember them easily too!” says Gill.

“And I breast-fed seven of them. It was easier than making up lots of bottles. I breast fed most of them for six months. I watched my diet and I am fairly healthy.”

Did Gill always plan on having a very large family?

“There was no plan,” she says.

Gill Ireland with her children, and partner Mike.
Gill Ireland with her children, and partner Mike.

“I wasn’t a career person. When I had the children, I decided to be a stay-at-home mother. It was my choice. My sister-in-law who has three children says she goes to work for a break!”

Gill may not have been a career person, but she was a sporty person.

“I used to row with the Great Island rowing club in Cobh,” says Gill.

“I won All-Ireland trophies.”

I tell Gill my friend in Galway used to row as well and when she was giving birth, she had no trouble.

“Rowing is great for the pelvic floor muscles,” explains Gill. “And you’re moving your whole body.”

Gill recalls the birth of her eldest son, Kristjan.

“I was 23 when I had Kristjan. The birth was no bother. But I did suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a condition that makes you violently sick in pregnancy.

“I had that for six months. When Kristjan was born he was most unusual, he had the fullest head of spiked hair that varied in colour from blonde, strawberry blonde and light brown. He weighed 9lbs 3 oz. The first three were born in Finbarr’s.”

Kristjan was a big baby.

“There was bigger to come!” says Gill.

“Soren was 10lbs 5 oz. Freya was 10lbs 3oz. I had an emergency C section with Skyler because I had grade 4 placenta previa, where the placenta was completely down blocking off the cervix and I was haemorrhaging. Some medical students in the hospital were very interested!”

Sklyer was one month early and the new CUMH had just opened in Cork in 2007.

“I had a brand new room all to myself!”

Gill is divorced from the father of her first four children, who are Delaneys.

Mike Casey, from Old Parish, is her partner and dad to her younger five children. Gill reared all nine children.

“They were always with me,” she says.

“There was no horrible fighting getting divorced and the relationship is good. And that is good for the children.”

Gill Ireland with her family.
Gill Ireland with her family.

Have Gill and Mike a big house to cater for 11 people?

“We live in a dormer bungalow in the country,” says Gill.

“There are four bedrooms. My own bedroom is converted. We’re all squashed in together.”

But they are all happy.

“Yes, we are all happy,” says Gill.

Iseult, Rainer, Ryker, Bonnie and Colby Casey were born in Waterford.

“Iseult was 9lbs 2 oz, Ryker was 10lbs 5 oz and Bonnie was 10lbs 2 oz. Coby was 10lbs 3 oz.”

And no major problems?

“None,” says Gill.

“I wouldn’t have kept having them if there were problems. I didn’t mind at all.”

But rearing and educating nine children is a lot of work.

“I got very used to getting up in the middle of the night. I was programmed! Mike was a great help,” says Gill.

“Yes, you’d be tired at the start with a new baby and with the other children but I was fine again around the six month mark.”

The children were content.

“Luckily there were no whingers,” says Gill.

“They were all very good. They slept most of the night. I don’t think I’d have been able to cope if they were whingers!”

Gill was an earth mother.

“I was the type of mum who would carry the baby around all the time in a sling. The babies never were in a room of their own. They were always with me.”

What is the most challenging period for a mum of nine; baby, toddler or teen?

Gill doesn’t hesitate.

“Definitely teens are more challenging,” she says.

“There are so many hormones hopping off one another!”

“There is always a fight for the bathroom and the two loos are always full.”

Having a growing family of nine must prove expensive?

“I buy everything in bulk,” says Gill.

“I buy a piece of ham for school lunches and I buy a big piece of meat for roast dinners. I am a vegetarian.”

“She likes chickpeas and lentils,” pipes up Skyler.

How does she cook them?

“You don’t want to know!” says Freya, giggling.

The family are self-sufficient in lots of ways.

“We’ve always had hens,” says Gill.

“We had sheep once and they got butchered for the dinner table. We had ducks who provided eggs as well and we had goats once upon a time too. In the summer we grow a lot of our own foods and we have a polytunnel for vegetables and fruit. We have spinach, kale, turnips and cabbage into October/November.”

There must be a lot of laundry to do?

“The washing machine is constantly going,” says Gill.

“And it is constantly breaking down! Teens change their clothes often, so there is always clothes to wash.”

Everyone gets the bus to school and Colby is in Náonra.

“By 9.20 I’m back home cleaning the house - it can be quite messy, and I get on with preparing dinner for the evening,” says Gill.

“Coming in from school, they are all hungry. There are lots of potatoes to be peeled! Afterwards the dishwasher is full and some washing up is done by hand.

Iseult, Rainer and Ryker, and Skyler.
Iseult, Rainer and Ryker, and Skyler.

“Then it’s homework time, TV time, playing time outside with the dog. Then there could be GAA training later.

“7.30 it’s time for the younger ones to go to bed. So it’s brush teeth, into the pyjamas and into bed. Then the next lot are organised!”

During Covid, the family were quite content in their own company.

“We had a house full of kids,” says Gill.

“There was always noise and laughter. I saw where other kids regressed and got upset. We never had that.”

They have the great outdoors.

“We love walking in the woods and climbing mountains,” says Gill.

They love birthdays too!

“We always have parties. There are two this month and three in June.

“I usually bake the cake and make all the food for the party.”

Does Gill get any down time?

“I go for coffee or head up to Cork with a friend,” she says.

“I like walking with my friend, Janette. She’s great. I’d be lost without her.”

Is there anything particularly challenging about having nine children?

“A biggie for me is holidays,” says Gill. “You can’t go anywhere if you have a lot of kids. We couldn’t camp out during lockdown because there were too many of us. We are over the limit for hotels and B&Bs. I often scratch my head and say, ‘where do we go?’ Ireland is not geared for big families.

“Anyway, we’ve no car to transport everyone! We had a van once; an eight seater, but the insurance was €2,000. The tax was colossal. We have two cars now; two seven seaters which are cheaper on tax.”

What is the best thing about having nine children. There must be a great sense of achievement?

“Yes, there is,” says Gill.

“I’m always busy and never lonely. There’s always someone to talk to. I have no time to concentrate on silly things.”

Granny is great as well.

“She knits lots of jumpers for us! And of course we rely on a lot of hand-me-downs,” says Gill.

“Growing up, mum made all our dresses and she made matching head scarves. There were seven of us. My dad is 96 and still going strong.”

There’s a lot of love going around in big numbers.

“My granny had 19 children,” says Gill. “She lost four. She used to work with lace and sell it to the people on the liners.”

What is happening in the family home in Old Parish for Mother’s Day?

“Mum usually gets breakfast in bed,” says Skyler.

Freya giggles.

“Last year she got yogurt with sprinkles on top and burnt toast! She never ate it.”

“I pretended to eat it!” says Gill.

“I always get flowers from the kids. I don’t want any big stuff. I’m not materialistic. I don’t expect a whole lot. A gesture is fine.”

Gill is delighted with her large family.

“I have no regrets. Thank God, there were no complications. There must be someone looking after me.

“The doctors were amazed I got pregnant with no help or intervention,” says Gill.

Her role in life is clear.

“My main role in life is as a mother,” says Gill.

“I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum. I would have liked to home-school the kids, but other than that I have no regrets.”

The three ladies are going shopping in Youghal.

“I need a charger for my phone,” says Skyler.

“And we have to pick up some supplies,” says Gill.

Ah, the joys... Even yogurt and burnt toast.

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