Therese and Gretta


Therese Kieran in conversation with
Gretta Kieran

Gretta Kieran is my mother. She lives in south Armagh, Ireland, and will be 85 years old on the 27th May. She’s a retired teacher and the most selfless person I know. Gretta’s own mother died aged 50, when she was just 24.


If we can winter this one out… And the people stayed home… Everything is going to be all right…

“If we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere,” a phrase coined by Seamus Heaney is appropriately resurrected as lockdown begins.

“And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened, and rested,
and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And listened more deeply.”

The opening lines of Kitty O’Meara’s poem, In The Time Of Pandemic, experiences its own viral response in March.

Everything is Going to be All Right, Derek Mahon’s poem, with those famous lines,

“There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.”

is recited at the end of RTE’s late news on 27th March as a message of hope to the nation. Sadly, the poet died on October 1st 2020.

If we can winter this one out… And the people stayed home… Everything is going to be all right…

become meditative mantras, looping through my thoughts.

Initially panic-stricken, and following my uncle’s bizarre, socially distanced funeral, all I can think about is death. I go to bed with my heart thumping, wake several times each night and cannot summon sleep. There is no time for writing or trying to be creative. My octogenarian parents are my main concern. My brother, sister and I quickly form a rota and arrange visits to bring food and supplies, and to provide vital face-to-face contact, from a distance; they live sixty miles away in the countryside. Each time I leave them, I manage to hold back the tears until they are tiny figures waving in the rear view mirror. It feels like I am abandoning them and yet this is the best I can do. I consider Stevie Smith’s poem, Not Waving But Drowning and decide this feels like drowning.

And we are so worried about mum in the beginning. She is quiet, her blue eyes have lost their sparkle and her smile is strained. And in those first few weeks, the weather is cold; spring is only washing its face and gives no clue to the fine spell that lies in wait.

But when the sun comes, it lifts us all and as my parents settle into new rhythms, I return to creative practice and feverishly begin to draw and make things as well as write. I lose myself in making my blue wall while contemplating the plight of the blue shark for 26 Wild and realise that I love making things, and that I am, like my mother, a manty-maker*. But I am also daughter, sister, niece, wife and mother and need to attend to all these roles. I struggle to strike a balance and feel selfish when I prioritise creative work. Then I begin to see that being creative sustains me and that I have long resided in what Liz Berry calls, The Republic of Motherhood, “feedingcleaninglovingfeeding” and that often, I’m ‘’heartsore”at the ‘’on and on-ness’’ of it, but must allow it to come, all of it, unbidden.

Therese Kieran


Everything is going to be All Right, Derek Mahon (R.I.P. October 2020) published in New Collected Poems, Gallery Press, 2011

In the Time of Pandemic – Kitty O’Meara, 2020

The Republic of Motherhood – Liz Berry published by Chatto & Windus, London, 2018

Not Waving But Drowning – Stevie Smith, published by A. Deutsch, 1957

*manty-maker – a word to describe someone who is always fussing and making something, often for no good reason – my maternal grandmother used to describe my mother as a manty-maker and my mum says the same of me.

Tower of Hope

Hope is a small word with big ambitions.
Here’s hoping the muse is just about to
      skate in.
I hope spring arrives masquerading as
Hope is the thing with an eel wriggle feel,
Hope has clammy hands and its smile is a
      quarter past nine
Hope smells a little like
      Johnson’s Baby Powder.
And where there’s life there’s hope,
And our god given right to hope
For brighter, lighter, carefree moments of
      joy and hopefulness,
For hope is more than the sum of its parts,
      is the pilot light and candle flame,
Is the lift of a sun sparked day arrived as
      we might have hoped
After torrents of endless rain that tried to
      drown our hopes.
But with hope in our hearts, we will
endure, we will prevail—
We will press our hands to our chests
      where hope holds its own
And say, not a single dream ever came to
      be without hope.

Therese Kieran

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