In 1973 we moved to the Australian town of Mildura. If you have never been to Mildura it is hard to explain. It sits as a desert outpost, marooned in a sea of red dust. In 1973 it was a frontier town full of frontier people – people looking for a new start or to forget an old life. By day the sun bleached all color from any life that pressed its way into the desert moonscape, by night the sandstorms stripped whatever was left. This is where we made our home.
Our years in Mildura made us used to people who existed in shades – people who were polite but reserved. People who told their stories in pauses, every exchange a trade of trust for detail. In simple terms, the people we had known were hard to know and hard to please.
In 1983, our father Des died and life’s crazy tide delivered us back to Ireland – to Galway. Nothing in our life to date had prepared us for our Aunty Nuala. She was a woman painted in vivid colour. A woman of stories and history and trust and love. A smoke tinged, brandy wielding character who, to us, looked like she could better Hemmingway in a bar fight and delight in telling you the tale. Someone who said what she meant and meant every word of what she said. To our mum she was the fearless older sister, to us a protective auntie who helped us navigate a new and unfamiliar town.
Nuala found us in a state of disrepair. We had lost our father and lost the only home we knew. Nuala was a skilled nurse who had for her entire life selflessly tended to the pain of others. What is amazing about Nuala is that she did this while holding nothing back. To us, as to countless others, Nuala gave fully and unconditionally. Intuitively she gave us space when we needed it and was the first to offer a shoulder to cry on. She had a press that housed an unending supply of sweets and crisps. She was magic.
Her throaty laugh is probably what we will miss the most. That and her wild tales of her wilder youth in London, a footloose fancy-free nurse chasing adventure down every street. She’ll remain in our memories a woman naturally full of vivacity, hilarity and gusto, a woman who loved bigger than anyone we have ever known, who poured that love into those around her. And we’ll be forever grateful that she was part of our family and we were part of hers. We will be forever grateful that she shared with us her greatest loves – Tom and David. We will love her and miss her. But we will never forget her.