Our sister Eva arrived into our world on November 15 1956, a day I remember so well. We were a family of 4 – boy aged 9, girl (me) aged 8, boy aged almost 4, boy aged 2. So Eva was number 5 in our family and for her recent 65th Birthday, I remembered that day with her. A new baby, they said. Oh, I groaned – another boy I suppose.
I was escorted to the ‘big room’ where babies mysteriously arrived, usually when the local midwife, Nurse Kelly, had left her bicycle leaning up against the wall. The ‘big room’ was in the annexe to our house and was a sort of ‘out of bounds’ area, so this was an adventure at a number of levels.
The usual question was asked – where did this baby come from? I was advised that it had come from Hungary in a tea chest to escape the Russian invasion. This was very plausible as there were images in the newspapers of tanks of the Red Army rolling in to Budapest just weeks before. It certainly made a dramatic change from the usual ‘gooseberry bush’ yarn.
Staring in at this sleeping bundle, I asked what we would call him. It’s a girl they said…’A what’? I responded and was quite stunned when they repeated the news.
I suppose we will have to spend days going through the Litany of Saints to find a name for her, I thought. remembering the trauma of trying to agree on a name for the last arrival, Damian, who had something to do with Lepers. Names of prior arrivals in our family were predetermined– Noel arrived on Christmas Day, so ‘Noel’ was a no-brainer, with our maternal grandfather’s name added ; I arrived on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, so Angela it was, tagged on to the names of both grandmothers; the eldest brother was named after his paternal grandfather and great grandfather, James and Daniel, but he was never called by either of these names other than on formal documents.
So what to do with this cute little bundle? Well, as it happened, her name had already been predetermined. No Litany of the Saints to scour this time . She would be ‘Eva’, a family name on our mother’s side of the house, a name that had been given to 4 generations before her (that we know of.) The name ‘Eva’ and variants of it, remain in our family among 1st, 2nd and third cousins. Our mother had a sister Eva, our grandfather had a sister Eva, our great-grandmother had a sister Eva and our great-great-grandmother had a sister Eva. Who knows how far back it goes?
So off to the chapel to have her christened – and I recall clutching the piece of paper with her chosen names. Our mother was still confined to bed, and in any event had not been ‘churched’, so she could not attend. (Churching was a catholic practice of ‘cleansing’ women who had given birth, that has thankfully ended). To satisfy the Church requirement for a Saint’s name for Baptism, our mother chose Philomena, a great favourite of hers as evidenced by the huge picture of her clutching a lily, that hung over the end of our dining room table.
However, the priest insisted in the nicest way possible that it might be a good idea to add in the name ‘Mary’ as there was some discussion beginning around the authenticity of Philomena’s status as a saint. It was a cold winter day in a church with no heating, so Dad readily agreed to the proposal so we could get home to a warm fire. I seem to recall that our mother was none too pleased by the decision.
To the best of my recollection, Johnny and Mary Josie Sweeney were godparents to our Eva Philomena Mary Gallagher.
In days before cameras were the norm, we do not have any photos of her as a baby. But here she is aged 2, in June 1959
Eva – In Memoriam
My sister is dead.
The vast emptiness astonishes me.
The lonely painful journey she made, angers me.
Her life unlived, dismays me.
She had dreams and hopes of change, which may have come in the silence of her final hours.
She had the courage to stay until then.
Is it ever too late?
I need her courage.