Conversation on a Christmas Eve

Are you really listening to people's stories?



 Busy Hospital Christmas eve


(A true story about a young nurse who risked the wrath of Nell Muldowney* in a busy hospital ward on a Christmas Eve)



The old lady opened her weary eyes 

“Nell, it’s only me” 

“Ah, it’s you nurse; I hoped ‘twas St Peter 

What time is it now?” “Just 3: 

You asked me to call you before I left... 

Maybe you’d rather the rest 

But I’m off duty now till St Stephen’s Day 

Popped in to wish you the best”




“What time are they going to open me up?” 

“You’re going down to the theatre at 5” 

“Bringing a surgeon in on Christmas Eve... 

...And for what? To keep me alive” 

“Nell, you’re an awful woman to be talking like that 

I think you’re a special lady” 

“I’m a crusty ould sod ...and you know it 

So less of the charm Miss Sarah”




“Sarah? Why do you call me Sarah, Nell?” 

“Do I?” “All the time: 

I don’t mind; it’s just that I wonder...” 

“Ah, Sarah was a beautiful child 

If only I had my mother then 

But she died when I was 2 

But you have more to be doing than listening to me 

So quickly off with you”




“Let me be the best judge of where I want to be 

I’ll call it my good deed for the day 

And even though you’re cross and contrary now 

And don’t want me here ...I’ll stay”




“Is there no-one at all to visit you, Nell 

(SILENCE) “Ok; I’ll leave you alone 

I’ll light a candle in Our Lady’s Church 

And maybe later on, I’ll phone” (GOES TO LEAVE)




“No, child, come back; I’d like you to stay 

If you’re sure you can spare the time 

I’m sorry I am the way that I am... 

No, there’s no family, but that’s just fine… 

They’d be only slobbering and doddering over me 

And waiting for me to die 

And wondering what I left to who... 

From my fortune! (soft laugh) And pigs might fly!”




 “There’s a lot of sadness in you Nell 

In your face, it’s plain to see 

If you’d like to talk to someone 

Your secret is safe with me”




“I remember my Confirmation Day 

I walked 5 miles to the Chapel...alone 

Me poor father couldn’t get the time off 

From that tyrant Major Lamont...




...If he’s not rotting in Hell, there’s no such place 

…I’m sorry child; go home 

And not be listening to an old lady prattling... 

(SILENCE) “God, I felt so alone...




...I went working for him at 18 years 

There was nowhere else to go 

At 19, I was carrying his child 

Of course he didn’t want to know




My child was taken away from me 

I would never see her again 

My heart broke into a thousand pieces 

Fr Flynn said it was just penance for my sin 

But the Major and that “Holy” Priest 

Went hunting every Sunday 

While I scrubbed floors and kitchen doors 

The same again on Monday”




“Did you ever try to find Sarah, Nell?” 

“Oh aye; but the Priest said I wasn’t well 

So everywhere I went for help 

A frightening silence fell 

I’ll never forget the voice of that nun 

“We have placed her in a very good home 

So for God’s sake, forget this silly nonsense 

And learn to live with what you’ve done! 

(soft cry) Forget little Sarah if I could”




“Nell, were you ever in love?” 

“Oh, aye; I was 25 

One of the Major’s hands be the name of Jack 

For once, I felt so alive... 

We went everywhere together 

Going to marry in the Spring 

Oh, a handsome lad with freckles 

I thought the world of him...




...But the Major found out and sacked him 

And told him about little Sarah 

The poor lad said he needed to go away for a while 

“You’ll be back?” I asked; he said “….maybe” 

(sad now) ...but he never did...(SHE CRIES) 

After that, nothing mattered 

My life just ebbed away 

One lousy year after another 

And this is what’s left today…




“Would you like to get confession Nell? 

If you like, I’ll get Father Breen” 

“No child; I’ll take my chances with God 

I think He’ll be fairer than men 

But thank you for listening to my dreary tale 

Now quickly be on your way 

There must be a thousand things you have to do 

Isn’t tomorrow Christmas Day?”




At that, Nell became very quiet 

And the young nurse decided to go 

She’d come back maybe later... 

For she was not to know 

That poor Nell had told her story 

For the first and only time 

It was to be her final act in life… 

…a life that was far from kind




There was no-one at her funeral 

Just that nurse and couple of friends 

What could poor Nell have possibly done? 

To deserve such a lonely end 

As the coffin lowered on Christmas Day 

The young nurse felt bitter sorrow 

And wondered how many more Nells there might be 

In this great Island of Saints and Scholars




Willie Egan: Christmas 2019  *The names have been changed

Busy Hospital Christmas eve





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