The Prendergasts recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. They also raised a glass to the enduring success of Paul’s organ transplant, writes Margaret Jennings.
WHEN Dubliners Rose and Paul Prendergast renewed their vows with a full ceremony and hotel reception after 50 years of marriage last January, they were not only celebrating the love they felt for each other on the original day, as mere teenagers.
They were also rejoicing that Paul, who received a kidney transplant 18 years ago, was alive and well to share the half-century mark together.
At the age of 17 when she married her childhood sweetheart, Rose could not have foreseen the tough financial times ahead, rearing 13 children and Paul’s unexpected diagnosis of polycystic kidneys, leading to dialysis in his late 40s.
So when I suggest that she truly abided by those nuptial promises “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”, she guffaws and says: “Yes, exactly what it says on the tin!”
When those vows were renewed, they were surrounded by their seven sons and six daughters, and their 16 grandchildren and one great-grandchild who Paul says “are all toppers”.
It was a shock when Paul, who was the breadwinner and employed in the asphalt business, discovered his polycystic kidney disease after he had a fall and ended up in hospital.
He had to give up work and go on dialysis and has continued to be unemployed since he received his transplant three years afterwards.
Age 69 this month, he looks back and says: “It was very tough but we get through it, don’t we? We all manage, thank God, to get through it. And the kids are all reared now and in good form and all working, doing very well.”
Ballymun-based Paul and Rose could never afford, with such a large family, to travel outside Ireland, until he got involved through the Kidney Donor Association, in competing in the Transplant Games at age 55.
His first trip abroad for the games was to Slovenia.
“It was my first time on a plane and I tell you I shook all the way. I was terrified — I was hanging on to Rose for dear life,” he laughs.
Since then they have been to the games in Canada, Hungary, Thailand, Australia and Germany. And he’s participating in the forthcoming World Transplant games in Malaga later this month — always with Rose in tow.
“I go to all the games — thanks to the Credit Union,” says Rose.
“I support him and everybody who goes. We are like a big family when we go away — we all look after each other. I give advice to people, or talk to someone if they’re disappointed or if they’re missing home, you know.”
Although they never got to go abroad as a family, Paul used to bring the children fishing and “up the mountains” and always kept them active — out of trouble, Rose points out. And Paul says they never went hungry: “I always fed them well. I’ve a big garden out the front and back and I grow all the veg myself.”
With 13 children in the house, it surely must have been a lot of pressure to keep everything going? “It was when there was no income coming in,” says Rose.
“It was hard when we were struggling, especially at Christmas, but we managed it; we got through it all.”
The renewal of their vows sealed that journey they have travelled together since Rose got married on her 17th birthday and had the reception in her family home. And the 50th-anniversary party also highlighted Paul’s 18 years of health, since his transplant.
“It was brilliant,” says Rose.
“I had the full wedding — the priest and the hotel; it was beautiful. We had the reception in the morning with champagne and cocktail sausages and sandwiches and scones. We had the four-course dinner and then in the evening we had fish and chips — it was like a food festival. We had a great band.
"And my daughter Elaine played the accordion. She did the Kilfenora Lullaby and we danced to that — we do that in the kitchen whenever we hear it on the radio.”
While that was a once-off, there is the anniversary of Paul’s gift of life that they both mark every year.
Just before March 16, Paul goes to Beaumont Hospital with a card for his donor’s family which he gives to the co-ordinator, although he will never know his donor’s name.
“Health is everything — to hell with money — to hell with the Lotto. I wouldn’t be here only for my donor, God bless him and all donors, and their families for giving the permission for this to happen — we wouldn’t be here otherwise,” says Paul.
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