I come from a very big family. To be honest it’s huge. I have never met anyone with a bigger family than mine. Where to start….. Well my father is the eldest of eighteen children. Yip. No twins and all born from my astonishing grandmother who is always in my head when I am silently annoyed that our nanny is running an hour late. God she was a woman. I have thought of her so, so much since James died, I believe any strength that I have, even the tiniest shreds, have come from her. Her own daughters are no wallflowers either. So last count I have, on this side of the family forty two cousins. We, the next generation, are now having or are starting to have our own children so the numbers may go over the hundred mark soon. Years ago there was a family reunion and we all had to wear nametapes. When I first met James, someone in my family, I can’t remember who said- “What do you mean he’s an only child?”
It’s not all been plain sailing in this clan as you might imagine. There is a twenty five year age gap between my father and his youngest sister. His sister is almost the same age as my eldest sister. And throughout their lives they have been dotted all over the globe even to the furthest reaches of Equator and Japan. They are a very interesting lot. There are often referred to by number they come in the family rather than name, which I love. My most effective drunk test is to list them in order of appearance. Weirdly I hardly know any of my cousins, what they do or what their children are called and it’s such a shame. At James’ funeral I met lots of them for the first time!
I knew I had a large family when I was about twenty. I was working for a summer in London as an Au pair for an Irish family living in South Kensington. They were bankers and worked long hours. They needed me to take their children to the local Catholic school. One morning while running this errand I saw a man in the playground playing with his son. I then heard him call his son’s name to get him to line up. I watched him for a while- There’s a Cassidy if ever I saw one- I thought, but had never met this man before. I decided to find out. I nervously approached him and said, “Hi, I’m Odharna, I think you are my uncle?” Anyone else might have found this odd to say the least. Not a Cassidy, because they have come to realise that the chances are that the bearer of these lines will be correct. I was. He was my Uncle Lonan. I didn’t see him again for another eighteen years. But I did do a stint teaching at the London Oratory where his son studied and I’m sure I must have taught him unbeknownst to the fact that he was my cousin. He assures me this can’t have been the case, as he would have remembered my name. But I met him again along with his sister and their mother who I had never met. They had all of us over for Sunday lunch a few months after James died. Lonan’s wife cooked a beautiful home cooked meal and it was wonderful being surrounded by this much family.
A few weeks later my sister came over and we had another cousin to dinner with her gorgeous Fiancée. We had the best time but I did think- this wouldn’t be happening if James were alive. James loved to hear stories about this massive family. One of his favourites was about an American cousin I have who was the only survivor from his battalion (Engine 3 Ladder 12) of N.Y.F.D. and was attending the carnage after the first tower was hit on September 11th. An image of this cousin’s back has become iconic. He had the scene encapsulated with the names of his comrades tattooed onto his back.The whole thing took 9 long months and was his own therapy. I weep every time I see it, even more so now. I am achingly proud to call him my cousin.
One good thing that has come out of this unholy mess is that I’m now getting to know my cousins which is a small consolation but it’s still something good. The irony is that James would have loved to have met them too.
For Jenny Conlon- Cousin number 22