Home is where the heart is and I love my wife and family very much

Have you ever heard of Godwin Swift? No, neither did I, until I stayed at his house last weekend. And I must admit I had never heard of Longwood either, where Godwin’s house is. As they say, it’s an hour from Dublin, but actually miles from anywhere. A lovely little village, a few miles from Enfield, with a supermarket, an antique and trinket shop, and one of those hardware stores where the landlady can never take a day off because she’s the only one who knows where everything is located.

Anyway, home and Godwin. It’s called Lionsden House, it’s Georgian and it’s “associated” with the Swift family. Deep in the bowels of the internet, you can find a connection between the house and Godwin Swift. In my stupidity, I assumed he must be an ancestor of the famous Jonathan, but Godwin died in 1815, and Jonathan 70 years earlier. So I guess, and one of you will probably prove me wrong, that Godwin was actually descended from Jonathan Swift’s uncle, who was also called Godwin (you’re with me so far , I hope!) And he left behind Lionsden . Bedrooms and bathrooms everywhere, beautiful fields all around, a huge shabby and beautiful dining room, and the atmosphere of an endless house party. It was as cold as the Baltic Sea when we arrived, but two huge wood-burning stoves quickly fixed that. And great for kids – all the place in the world for them.

It was my daughter Sarah’s idea. She won’t mind me telling you (I hope) that she will be 40 at that time. She was born the very day the government of Garret Fitzgerald and Dick Spring was formed. Among other things, this resulted in giving Sarah an absent father for much of the first two years of her life. Perhaps (hope not) for this reason, or perhaps because of the proximity of Christmas, she was never good at celebrating birthdays.

So she wanted to make this one special – it also coincides with another event I’ll get to in a bit – and suggested renting Lionsden House for the weekend (it’s on Airbnb). We all readily agreed to participate and all descended, laden with enough food (and wine) to keep an army of slicers busy for a month.

The whole thing was Sarah’s idea, and it was awesome. We have four daughters and six grandchildren, and it was the first time in years that we had all had a party weekend together. My younger sister Aoibhinn also came with her husband Marc and her daughter Ava.

Maybe because it was the first time with all the children and grandchildren, maybe the frost and the cold, maybe the laughter and the conversations – it was amazing. I have rarely felt so lucky.

I know so many families who, for one reason or another, would find it impossible to organize a weekend like this. Distance, bereavement, emigration, broken relationships – there are also bad things that go with family.

So when opportunities arise, seize them. I just spent a weekend with the most important people in my life, and it really mattered. I know they all think I’m a grumpy old man, but I’ll never forget it, and I’ll always be grateful to Sarah for thinking of it, and to everyone else for being there.

We lit fires, we did the dishes, we cooked the biggest roast beef I’ve ever seen, we decorated a Christmas tree and we played with our grandchildren. It may not sound exciting, but you’ll have to believe me that it would be impossible, absolutely impossible, to have a better weekend, one that I will remember forever.

It turns out there was another reason we were together, and it was part of Sarah’s generosity that she was happy to share her birthday with the other occasion. In fact, she had created a family WhatsApp group to organize the logistics, and she called it the “birthday-birthday” group.

Because this weekend my wife and I also celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Not quite on the date, because we made the mistake of getting married a few days before Christmas, and no one ever really wanted to come to a birthday party when there was so much else going on .

So it will be about a week before I can boast that the most enduring woman in Ireland has supported me for half a century. If I started telling you about Frieda, I’d run out of space long before I finished. She is extremely talented, strong and wise.

She constantly worries about everything, but when she has a fit of laughter, it’s the most contagious thing in the world.

Much of his life has been influenced by his artistic talent and surprisingly creative eye. But it was also shaped by the disability that visited our home when Mandy, our eldest daughter, was born with Down Syndrome (or Up Syndrome, as Mandy insists on calling it).

Disability does not only bring pressure and difficulties in its wake. If you’re like Frieda, it also brings things to learn — and to teach; paths of growth, battles to be waged, public policies to be questioned. One of the battles Frieda fought years ago was born out of the realization that educational opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities were so limited. This battle led directly to a decision by Trinity College Dublin, and eventually other third tier colleges, to admit students like Mandy into programs suited to their needs and abilities.

I said I wasn’t going to go. But there is one thing we have all learned over the years. Wherever Frieda is, home is. It’s not just because of how we feel about her – it’s also because she has an unparalleled gift for bringing atmosphere wherever she has lived. We started together in a small flat in Ranelagh, then a converted stable in Bray, half of a lovely damp house in Blackrock in Dublin, and a variety of houses in Cork before moving back to Dublin. Each one of them, no matter what condition she found them in, became a place I never wanted to leave.

The nature of my job over those many years meant that she did most of this – and a lot of heavier work besides – by herself. Those early years of Sarah’s life that I mentioned before – I lived in Dublin at the time and worked around the clock, crisis after crisis. Frieda lived in Cork and cared for the needs of four young children while learning about and coping with Down syndrome at a time when there was no support.

It’s a miracle to me that she put up with everything, especially with me, for so long. She regards me, I think, as nothing to do with the full article.

I am unfinished business, a project with a long way to go before I am done to its satisfaction. Luckily for me, Frieda never gave up on a project.

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