Mother’s Day Past

Mother’s Day means a different thing to me these days than it did when I wasn’t a mother myself. Back in the 1980’s when I was growing up, as the eldest of six children (although the youngest 2 are ’90s kids) I took it upon myself to organise the Mother’s Day offerings for Mam. It never occurred to me that I should have asked Dad to help out, I guess I was a born martyr!

There was a checklist to the perfect Mother’s Day in my preteen head.

School provided the cards, as many cards as you had school-going children in the family. There was often a crafty gift that came home from school too- I remember eggboxes, pipecleaners and an empty toilet roll holder making a beautiful (?) bunch of flowers.


Me, Mam and my sister Niamh in 1986

When it came to the bought gift purchasing options were limited in our remote seaside village, there were two shops and no florist. One shop was a “modern” Centra, where you’d buy your paper, your Findus Crispy pancakes, a sliced pan, cooked ham and Club Goldgrain biscuits. The other was a more whimsical affair, with a high wooden painted counter, a glass peep window at child’s eye height where you could see all the amazing penny-sweets mingling together, marshmallow dolphins, long jelly snakes, fizzy flying saucers. Sometimes the owner Mrs Byrne would have made doughnuts and she’d set them on top of the counter in a silver bowl, still warm and oozing jam, the sweet smell heavy on the air.

Buckets and spades hung from the roof, secured by twine and thumbtacks, all manner of toys in carded packs, stickers, kalkitos transfers, colouring books, fishing reels. Anything a tourist might need.

On the shelves over the boxes of crisps that were arranged on the floor for ease of access was all the “tat” that seaside souvenir shops are obliged to carry. Lots of bits and pieces made in China emblazoned with “Ireland”, ashtrays with photographs underneath, every shape of dustcatcher known to man. I loved to look at them all, marvelling in their beauty to my 8 year old eyes. (In the 1980’s it was perfectly normal to let your 8 year old walk the 200 metres around the corner and down the hill to the local shop, another indication of how times have changed).

I would spend possibly 20 minutes reviewing every piece of “Mother” related treasure before setting my heart on one and putting it up on the high counter to pay. It would be wrapped in tissue paper and I’d carefully hide it in my dufflecoat pocket on my back way up the hill. My favourite one is pictured below, bought in the mid 1980’s with “I love you Mother” proudly printed across, the colours remind me of Rainbow Brite now. It’s still there though in the display cabinet, I checked last time I was there. 


The ACTUAL Rainbow Brite vase

I had no income in the 1980’s so how I paid for these gifts is a mystery, although I do recall that my Dad would empty his pockets of coins onto the dressing table every evening and I’d harvest 50 pence coins (this was in the days before the £1 coin was invented) and sure they all added up I suppose. I also remember handing my poor aunt the princely sum of £9.50 and asking her to arrange flowers to be delivered to Mam on Mother’s Day. She must have added the same amount again to make my Mother’s Day wish come true, the delivery alone from the nearest florist would probably have taken the amount I’d given. All these years later and I’ve never asked her about it or thanked her! (Thanks Auntie Maura!)

So, armed with the cards, crafts and gifts Mother’s Day became all about the essential breakfast in bed. When there were small ones sleeping in my parents’ room we’d listen outside the door and swoop in to take the toddler out with us, thereby giving Mam her lie in. Then, my eldest brother, younger than me by two years, and I would prepare it together, initially cornflakes and homemade brown bread (that she’d made herself) presented with the bread-knife as we weren’t able to cut it. As the years passed we progressed to cooking a big breakfast and presented it on the red tray from the top of the tea trolley. I’m sure she’d heard us almost burn the kitchen down but she stayed calm in the bed until we descended with our breakfast offering, but she always pretended to be asleep as we crept into the room with the tray and laden down with our treats.

They were simpler times, yet this Mother’s Day from the 1980’s is, I think,still the Mother’s Day that most Irish houses will enjoy on Sunday.

I won’t be home in my parents’ house this Mother’s Day, I’ll hopefully be eating breakfast that has been served to me in my own bed, but I’m confident that that my brothers and sisters keep the tradition going and give Mam her burnt rashers to thank her for being there for us and getting us all this far.

Happy Mother’s Day x


Photo credit: this blogpost would not have been possible without the help of my brother Niall who rooted in the back of the display cabinet and found the rainbow brite vase and sent me a photo of it this evening.

12 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Past

  1. Gorgeous post! It resonates very strongly with me.
    I’m an eldest child too and also a born martyr;) I also have a sister 10 years my junior, so I remember herding her downstairs so as not to wake my Mam on mother’s day. How sweet that your Mam kept the vase all these years! Mine has all the cards we ever made stashed in a drawer. We’ll be the same ourselves I’m sure!

  2. oh I love that the Rainbow Brite vase is still there! What a lovely nostalgic post – hope you get your own version of a Rainbow Brite vase this year 🙂

  3. I also remember going into the shop for a box of Malteesers and we picked all the wild daffodils we could find or Mr Nolan would let us gather rhododendrons from the graveyard and putting them into vases for Mammy. We used to get the card at the post office.. brings back many memories of Duncannon, simple times and i miss them !

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