‘There where the waves spray
The feet of solitary reefs…
A loving enchantress
Gave me her talisman.
She told me with tenderness:
You must not lose it,
Its power is infallible,
Love gave it to you.’
Alexander Pushkin, ‘The Talisman’
Let’s be fair, to use a quote from a Russian author of great repute is a little bit pompous but even if it is, in this case I think it describes beautifully to me the subject of this week’s blog. I came across this additional quote recently that also made me think about the same subject and it too sums up my feelings nicely.
‘Now and again in these parts, you come across people so remarkable that, no matter how much time has passed since you met them, it is impossible to recall them without your heart trembling.’
Nikolai Leskov, ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsenski’
Those who know me well, won’t be overly surprised to see me quoting Russian authors. While not a fanatic, I have always been drawn to the power and drama of Russian writers. I love the intrigue and power plays, especially in the pre-Russian revolution era. I am however not about to go down the route of discussing Russian literature. This is a skill that far exceeds my limited talents.
No, these quotes reminded me of something perhaps far mundane than Russian literature although for me something far more real and far more important. These quotes brought to mind the power and love of my extended family; common parlance calls us, ‘The Hogans’.
Reality is that we are far from ‘The Hogans’ that once existed when the last of the modern core Hogan family was born in 1948 (my mother as it happens). We are the Hogan clan yet so many of us are a generation if not even two generations away from the original Hogan title. Some of us may not even share the blood of the Hogans but through upbringing and shared experiences are as very much a Hogan as anybody else. For we are Ironsides, Lydons, McDonalds, McCarthneys, O’Sheas, Donaldsons, Farrellys, Healys, Gallaghers, Scanlons, Bantins, Mathers, Buckleys, Warrens, Carrolls and probably many more that I cannot keep track of. What unites us all though is the strength of identity and indeed the strength of personality of twelve brothers and sisters. For us first cousins, these aunts and uncles; mothers or fathers are the originals – the very heart and soul of the Hogan clan.
The Hogans had always played a key role in my life: my summers were spent with cousins Alice, Brid and Una. Alice was also there for some of my first alcohol experiences as I was there for hers (least said about that the better!). My adolescent years were spent with my Aunty Mai winding me up and my cousin, Kathy (her daughter) happily helping her. My Aunty Ann would take me swimming in the rivers near their house while Uncle Vinny took me out on the family farm and showed me how to herd cattle. I still use the breathing method cousin Clare thought me one summer so I could swim further under water. Uncle Frank and Aunty Marie along with their daughter, Roisin, gave me my first experience of spending time with someone with a disability and seeing how disability makes you no different than you would be different without the disability.
Later, Aunty Robin in England with her husband Brian, provided me with a respite from London when things got very hard. They were my escape, they gave me the ability to call them on a Friday night and say, ‘is it ok if I come on the next train?’ Their daughter Maureen allowed me be her bridesmaid, terrifyingly about 30 years ago. Uncle Don, the history professor, helped me prepare for my final history exams in school. My cousin Carol in England, gave me the chance to spend time her in her school before my teacher training interview so at least I could pretend I knew something about the English education system. I could go on. We are family that supports each other (while of course being busy winding each other up and talking very loudly at each other!).
For many years, I didn’t value the Hogan family. I loved spending time with them but I didn’t recognise just how important having a family identity was. I didn’t see just how lucky I was to have such a powerful strong group behind me who would support me through to the ends of time; through arguments and laughter, this group would always be there for each other.
My husband, also comes from a very strong family, one with an extremely strong family identity. He opened my eyes up to this power. From day one, he made it clear that in his family, family supported each other no matter what. You may have had a major falling out with someone the day before but if they needed you, you dropped everything and went to help them. His policy has always been that family comes first, that you value whatever moments you can spend with family. Living outside of Ireland, striking the balance between family life and simply life is hard. Chris pushed me to go home more often and never questioned whether we would attend family weddings, funerals or parties. If they were happening and we could find the money to pay for it, then we were going.
Consequently, I found myself at my Uncle Joe’s 80th birthday party in 2013 in a small town in Ireland called Portlaoise. This is the family base, where the family has been for very many generations and where many of the aunts and uncles have returned to in retirement. Joe had lived for many years in New York and in typical Hogan style had been a tower of strength and support for all the cousins who ventured to the states for work or even just for holidays. All who saw him there returned with stories of his kindness and generosity. It was no surprise therefore that his birthday saw a significant turn out of cousins and all the aunts and uncles. Motivation to attend was also Uncle Martin. Martin was sadly ill with cancer at the time.
This was perhaps the first occasion where most of the cousins in attendance were now adults. Now, I have only vague memories from that very dodgy night club my cousin Liam brought me to the night perhaps I need to black them out for my own sanity! It may have reminded me of my teenage years in some of the rural clubs I used to attend but it was so much fun. Surrounded by my cousins, drinking, laughing and dancing. What could be better?
For me the night was a turning point in my understanding of the importance of the Hogan clan. A sad reality was suddenly made clear: Joe was now 80 and my oldest uncle, Uncle Liam was now 87. Martin at 82 had cancer. How much longer could the aunties and uncles be the focal point around which the family pivoted? What would happen when that pivot point no longer was there? What would happen to the strong family unit that was created the day the eldest sibling, Uncle Liam, was born in 1926?
Just three months later Uncle Martin died of colon cancer. He was the first of the 12 brothers and sisters to pass. For all of us it was a heartbreaking moment. Even today, writing this I can’t help but shed a tear. Martin was always adored by us cousins and the memory of his funeral mass trying to comfort my cousin, Brid, when I too was in bits will always stay in my mind. His funeral however cemented the need for us cousins to be proactive about sustaining our relationship in the long term. A week earlier Uncle Denis (our Aunty Brid’s husband) had also died further demonstrating the temporary nature of family and in this case the siblings. The family having attend two funerals over the course of 8 days, led Uncle Don (Peggy’s husband) to comment, ‘Right then, see you all next Monday or maybe I won’t.’ Dark comedy not untypical of Don!
Martin’s funeral was the biggest gathering of cousins ever with 30 first and second cousins. That next morning, I went home and befriended every single cousin I could find on Facebook and I have continued to do so ever since. Consequently, I have from the side lines begun to know what my extended family are doing with their lives. We have a much easier way of contacting each other than dependence on our parents.
Now we find our aunties and uncles reduced from 12 to just 9 with Uncle Liam passing on in 2014, Aunty Brid and Aunty Ann (Uncle Vinny’s wife) in 2014.
The family continues to age and but also to grow. Aunty Robin likes a party. Any excuse really. So turning 80 needed a party! Despite moving to London in the early 1950s, she has always been the one with contact with all of the siblings and indeed a lot of the cousins. If you need a message passed to the family, get it to Robin and your work can be considered complete! This family centred focus required therefore her party to be in Ireland! When her daughter, Maureen, pushed her to focus on exactly who was going to the party she declared, ‘Everyone!’. Robin had sent out an open invitation to every Hogan relative not matter how distantly related.
Consequently, all her remaining brothers and sisters and their spouses; 27 (of the 38) first cousins; and a further 20 second cousins took up the call. Cousins came from Australia, the UK and us from India. Us Hogans aren’t exactly the quietest bunch in the world so you can imagine the chaos that reigned. Tradition continued and at 4 a.m. I went to bed dragging my reluctant 73 year old Uncle Frank with me! Let’s be fair the only reason the cousins and Uncle Frank ended the sing song was the residents bar refused to serve us. Apparently, 4 a.m. was the breaking point for staff that had been dealing with the Hogan madness for two days.
These links will probably only work if you are a member of the Hogan Facebook group. Working on a way to upload them to YouTube and will replace these links when I do.
Once again, I was struck by just how important family is and sadly just how important it is for us, the next generations of Hogans, to take up the mantle of ensuring that when the older generation is no longer there to provide reasons for us to gather, that we gather anyhow. As a start we now have a Facebook group, Hogan Madness with over 47 members, mainly cousins. We hope this will help us to sustain a relationship that does not pivot around the siblings.
On the other hand maybe the next gathering is still in the hands of the older lot. I believe I heard Aunty Mai declare that, ‘wasn’t the party just great, I think I’ll do this for my 90th next year!’ Kathy and Denis, enjoy the preparations!! Put Chris and I on the guest list because nothing would stop us from being there.
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