Taking it in my stride one step at a time

Radio personality and nature enthusiast Éanna Ni Lamhna insists on living in the present and refuses to be defined by her age, says Margaret Jennings.

Taking it in my stride one step at a time

SHE has the energy of the Duracell Bunny – never needing to wind down or recharge – but Éanna Ni Lamhna, the well-known environmental commentator on our radio waves, is of course far more interested in the animal, rather than the toy version of the bushy-tailed specimen.

It’s no surprise then that she jokingly quotes an animal reference – the once-held belief that an extraction of monkey glands could keep you rejuvenated – when asked how she maintains such a high level of activity as she faces her 64th birthday.

“I’m always full of energy, always. I’m always doing things, full of beans,” she says, in that distinctive voice so familiar to listeners of the RTÉ afternoon show, Mooney Goes Wild, where she imparts to the nation her wide knowledge as a biologist and entomologist in a fun and no-nonsense manner.

And why wouldn’t she be full of vim, she argues, since she’s doing what she loves? Her devotion to nature and the environment fills her daily diary; as an academic she’s been lecturing in Dublin’s Bolton Street college for 20 years and she works voluntarily in many ways, including as PR officer with the Tree Council of Ireland.

She is also an author of wildlife books and is currently in the process of composing one for children at home in the evenings.

A mother of three, Eanna says she was “no spring chicken” when she had her first at 33 – Maebh, who’s now 31 – and married in Britain.

Three years later she had Christopher, now 28, and her third child, James, 22, arrived when she was 41.

“Back then when we would be on the bus I would occasionally be asked ‘Is that your own child?’ I used to reply ‘Why? Do you think I kidnapped him, do you?’ And then they would say ‘I thought he was your grandchild’... the nerve of them!”

Now that she is at an age when she could be a granny, would she like to be one? While she says there is no way she would pressurise her children to produce, the scientist in her wins out: “If I don’t become a granny I’m extinct. I want my genes to get passed on.”

In the meantime, Eanna is too busy embracing life full on. She and her husband John Harding, who is retired from his managerial position at Eircom, love hillwalking together and taking in the great outdoors; they had been doing so on the cliffs of North Mayo a few days before we spoke and afterwards she “took a dip in the sea”.

“My legs are still walking and my lungs are still working and my husband is still good to me – we are lucky, and we don’t take our good health for granted. It helps that one of my hobbies is cooking and I eat and cook everything from scratch.”

She didn’t experience the menopause until she was 55 and aside from the hot flushes it didn’t slow her down. And though both her parents died of “heart trouble” at 64, apart from annual GP check-ups she doesn’t give too much thought to her own mortality.

“I can’t understand why someone would think that suddenly because I am age such- and-such I can’t keep going,” she says, appalled at the thought.

Considering the ageing process, Eanna again references the animal kingdom – the reality that survival depends on being able to look after yourself.

“The sad truth is there are no old wild animals out there – if you can’t hack it, if you can’t cut the mustard, you’re gone.”

Way back, when her schedule was too busy, she made up her mind that there was only one way of tackling life: one thing at a time, and one day at a time.

“I am here now talking to you and then I will move on to the meeting I have to attend. I could die in five minutes or in five years.

“I only live in the present and do the best I can. When you look at things that way a great weight rolls off your shoulders. It makes life so much easier.”

And perhaps that’s the real key to Eanna’s boundless enthusiasm.

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