I moved to Amsterdam in 2000, and began work in my shiny new Dutch job on Monday morning. I had never been to Amsterdam before, didn’t speak a word of Dutch, didn’t know a soul, and had nowhere to live upon arrival. On my first day of work I was introduced to my new colleagues. One of whom was a Donegal woman named Maureen. We didn’t have much to say to each other. She sat behind me and listened to her music on her Discman, while I wallowed in self-pity at my foolhardy decision to move countries on a whim. As I was brand new in my position I had no time off earned, to return home to Ireland to lick my wounds that Christmas. This weighed heavy on my soul. So much so that on December 20th I started singing an Elvis classic to myself.
‘It’ll be lonely this Christmas, without you to hold. It’ll be cold, cold, cold…’ Nothing like a bit of festive spirit.
‘Do you mind not singing that, please?’ came the voice from behind me.
I turned and looked at Maureen.
‘Sorry – I know I have a voice like cats in a blender’ I replied (these may not have been my exact words but something along those lines.
‘Oh it’s not that. It’s just that I am spending Christmas alone this year and I don’t want to have to listen to that all day.’
My heart soared. Here was my chance.
‘So am I. Do you want to come to my house and we can cook a turkey?’ (I had sourced a flat share at Vasco Da Gamastraat in De Baarsjes by this point).
That first Christmas was special – a couple of other strays joined us in our traditional Christmas meal. Later that evening we went to the Leliebel drag queen bar on Rembrandtplein for a few sociables. So began our friendship.
We had so much fun that year of 2001. Maureen became my good buddy – the hi-jinks and escapades were abundant. From that time one Saturday evening when I’d arranged to meet her in the Tara Bar on Rokin at 8pm. In my youthful exuberance I decided earlier that day to try magic mushrooms for the first (and last) time, and walking into the bar to her look of horror.
‘What are you on?’ said she.
‘Oh Maureen, I’ve taken mushrooms, and I feel like I have pink, fluffy bunny slippers on my feet.’ She threw her eyes to heaven and told me I was a special case.
To the time that – in her wisdom – Maureen decided that shoes were superfluous to human happiness and decided to go barefoot in the Tara – to the consternation of the bouncer. A few beverages may have been consumed by this point.
We had such a laugh, our gang. Maureen and I had a running joke that I was Sue-Ellen Ewing – faded, drunken, former Miss Texas. Maureen was J.R. Ewing – ruthless oil tycoon, C.E.O. of Ewing Oil, and the cause of Sue-Ellen’s pain. Maureen would greet me at work in the morning in a Texas/Donegal accent ‘You’re a drunk and an unfit mother Sue-Ellen’ she’d hiss at me. I would reply with a quivering whine ‘I’m not a drunk, and I’m not a whore and I am not your problem to solve, you BASTARD JR!!!’
At the end of 2001, Maureen moved to Australia on the one year working holiday visa. Why wouldn’t she? She was in her twenties. She wanted to see the world. She stayed in Australia, got married and had a family whom she loved dearly. We’d stay in touch over email. Every few years she’d come back with her growing family. It was like she had never left. In 2013 I paid a visit to her farm in Western Australia and was deeply impressed by how capable and strong she was – this Donegal woman who was now an Aussie sheep farmer. The health issues she experienced about ten years ago were taken in stride. She had a positive outlook and spirit and illness was just a hurdle to be overcome. When I went to see her in Donegal in 2017, Maureen, her children, myself and her childhood friend went camping in the Isle of Doagh – a very special place, close to her hometown. I will not forget the pain I felt as I lay in the sleeping bag on those barren rocks, and the Maureen’s lilting voice the next day ‘Ah would you ever whisht up with your whining Murphy?’
When I heard her illness had returned I was hoping that she’d beat it again. It seemed obvious that she would.
Maureen was a good person; a true friend who loved her family and friends dearly. I loved her. Rest in peace Maureen.