HISTORY WILL DICTATE

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THE RISE AND RISE OF BERNADETTE ROSATIO O'DWYER

There was great trepidation around the higher ranks of the ruling classes within the Irish diaspora!

Maureen Malone had been the titular ‘Secretary’ to the Board of Trustees for over twelve years, since the date the organisation was officially handed over to ‘lay management’. She had, though, been very involved with the day to day running, long before that. She had previously assisted the then Director with the paperwork, and with anything that related to ‘people’. He had not been much good with people, nor paperwork, nor governance, nor technicalities, nor strategy, nor much really - and had preferred to ‘delegate’ such tasks to others - many others. But Maureen (or Moll as she was universally known), was the principal ‘go-for’ and general factotum: Unpaid, unappreciated, and generally unconsidered. So for Moll, not a lot had changed despite her more ‘exalted’ title.

Some five years prior to that transition, Gerard and Bernadette

O’Dwyer moved into the city, having lived in Leeds for a number of years, to be close to their daughter, Melanie, son-in-law, Craig, and first grandchild, Poppy. Gerard (or Ger) had run a successful construction company for many years with his brothers, specialising ultimately in major projects for local authorities and large corporations. At 62, he had handed the day to day running of this over to his younger brothers, but naturally continued to keep an entitlement to a proportion of the proceeds which kept himself and Bernadette ‘in the manner to which they had become accustomed’ - more or less. Not finding retirement very satisfactory, once Bernadette had come to the end of her demands for the extension, alteration, modification and decoration of her new grand house in a swanky part of the city, Ger looked around for an escape route - something to take him out of the house.

A local businessman, Paul Dempsey, was foolish enough, over a pint, to let Ger into the secret that ‘business was none too rosy’. He had been a fool to himself, getting into hock with some big time local money lenders - shysters really - which had not turned out so well and he was in fear of his life. He had remortgaged his house in order to keep them at bay in the short-term, but it was only a matter of time. He was at desperation point and was fearful for himself - but more especially his family. He was almost at the point of throwing in the towel and skedaddling overseas, before the shit hit the fan. Ger, naturally, of course, wanting to help this poor chap out, decided to be his benefactor. Dempsey did not need much persuading to take Ger in as the major ‘partner’ in the company in exchange for much needed capital investment and more importantly ‘sorting out’ his ‘little bit of trouble’ with the goons. The company was right up Ger’s street, being involved in the hiring out of big construction equipment - caterpillars, diggers, earth movers, etc.

Some eight months after this event, Paul Dempsey died suddenly as the result of a freak accident when his car was hit by an express train on an unmanned level crossing in Leicestershire. It was unclear how this had occurred, or indeed what he was doing in Leicestershire, but he appeared to have been quite alone at the time, and it was assumed that he had stalled the car and had panicked. He had tried to leave the car, the train catching him full on as he opened the car door, much to the distress and horror of the train driver. There were no witnesses to this, and the coroner’s verdict had teetered between accidental death and suicide, but given that he had tried to exit the car, the kinder decision was made that it was, indeed, a very tragic and horrific accident. With Paul’s life assurance money safeguarded by the Coroner’s verdict, Ger O’Dwyer had no difficulty in persuading Paul’s wife, Claire, to sell him her inherited half of the business, together with the house she had shared with Paul, and their teenage daughters. She had intended to rent this out, to provide an income, but after a discussion with the ever solicitous Gerard, and his lovely and helpful wife, Bernie, Claire decided that she had monies enough to live comfortably, though not extravagantly abroad, but with the additional capital from the sale of the house, she and the girls could be more relaxed and not have the bother of tenants, and the legal rigmarole of being a landlord. Yes, she thought, they were right, it was best to sever all ties with the past, and to start afresh elsewhere.

So, with the onward sale of the Dempsey house, after some minor improvements and general sprucing up, for just over half a million pounds - two hundred thousand more than he had paid Claire for it - together with his share in the family’s original business, and Dempsey Cats and Digs, now entirely owned by Ger, the O’Dwyers were set fair for the future. But enough with this pair was never enough. They could not help themselves but seek ever more widening and enriching landscapes. The combination of the businesses provided a real opportunity to grow an even bigger empire, with bigger prospects and infinitely more attractive profits. Ger - with the aid of his resourceful wife - soon got to know the relevant ‘bigwigs’ in the local council, and more importantly got to know a lot about their little foibles, their little peccadilloes, their little eccentricities! All this was grist to the mill when contracts were being assigned, and important business decisions made.

But what of Bernadette herself? She had originally travelled across to the UK at the tender age of 16 from the West of Ireland, ostensibly to train as a nurse. She had left a lot of problems back home, and despite her youth, her parents thought it best that she start again somewhere else. She was to be resident in the Nurses’ Hostel attached to the only major hospital in a large town in the north east of England, but her wild and headstrong nature had never been suited to that kind of discipline or restriction. She soon was asked to leave, and despite any kind of training - either formal or even informal – and no real relevant experience, by bluff, she managed to get herself a job as a secretary in a local car showroom. She did not last long in that role. She was unable to type fast enough with two fingers to keep up with the audio machine – and shorthand was like Arabic to her. She redeemed herself, however, because on her numerous sorties onto the sales floor to escape her torment, she used her looks, her brogue and her wit to charm the customers and so improved the sales figures nicely – despite the fact that she was told numerous times not to go there because she distracted the staff. The male staff were, in fact, more than happy to have her there as eye candy, but were somewhat embarrassed that she could sell more in an half hour visit than they could manage in a full afternoon. They did have to admit, however, that she made a significant difference to the staff bonus – which she, as non-sales staff, paradoxically did not get. Seeing her skills, and also desperately needing to get her away from the typewriter, she was moved officially into the showroom as an integral member of the selling effort. This vastly improved both the sales figures, as well as the work rate in the office because it necessitated employing a proper secretary, with all the skills required for that role. She was 51 and matronly, but they had learned their lesson and decided that looks weren’t everything – once bitten, twice shy!

The new role suited her very well, not only to earn a good wage, and excellent commission, but it also gave her every opportunity to keep her eyes open for her ultimate goal. It did not take long for that goal to be achieved. They were all disappointed when her potential ‘meal ticket’ walked into the showroom and was immediately smitten. Gerard O’Dwyer had only gone into the showroom to avoid an ex-girlfriend who had not got the message. He had not gone in to buy a new car, and he certainly had not gone in prepared to meet his future bride, his constant and ever-present partner, for the next three decades and more! He did both on that day. He was totally smitten – with the car, and its seller. He was 32 years old.

So Bernadette married at 18. She had a big church wedding, to which she invited her entire family over from Ireland – including family she had lost contact with years before; she invited all her colleagues from the car showroom; she invited her former acquaintances during her short-lived spell as a student nurse - indeed she invited anybody and everybody she could think of, in order to prove to them that she had made it. She had reached the pinnacle of the graph she had mapped out for herself. She had told the student nurses, almost from the first day they met her, that she was not going to stick around for long because she had other plans. She had her eye out for a sugar daddy! She wanted them all to know now that she had found her ‘older man with money’ who could keep her in the manner to which she had always thought she was entitled, and which she knew she would attain sooner or later - one way or another.

Since then, to give Bernadette her due, she had upheld her side of the bargain. She had been a dedicated and faithful - in every sense of the word - wife since that day. Always supportive; always ready to use whatever skills and attributes she had for the good of the family and the business. Not being one to sit around, she quickly made herself an integral part of the O’Dwyer family business from day one, as well as over time bearing and bringing up her two children, Melanie and Tristan. She was, technically, the ‘stay at home’ housewife she had always intended to be, but in reality she could not be side-lined and soon found herself very involved with all aspects of the company business. The other wives were certainly put out. They resented her involving herself in the company; they resented the fact that the men compared them to her; they resented the fact that she was able to be all things to all people. She was hailed as a paragon by the men, and as a pain in the posterior by the women! It would ever be thus! She was personable and shrewd, and just the sort of ambassador that the company needed. In practice, despite her unpaid status she also interfered a lot – too much for the paid staff – in the running of the businesses - the hiring - and the firing – which made her enemies; she interfered almost daily with the organising of the staff on a day to day basis; she insisted on being involved in meetings with accountants, tax advisers, lawyers, anything official. She absorbed it all and soon was able to hold her own in any professional company. She was considered very useful by all of the brothers, becoming the principal trouble-shooter when the need arose, as well as a decorative and resourceful representative at social and important occasions. Bernadette had no paper qualifications, but never seemed to need any. She just seemed to lead a charmed life. When she and Gerard moved, in his abortive attempt at retirement, she was greatly missed by the male company directors, if not by their wives or the senior staff – who attended the farewell party in great glee at the prospect that she was out of their hair.

Moll had known some two years prior to ‘D’ Day that the clergy were pulling out of the local organisation. She mentioned this to her husband, Tony, who mentioned it to Ger, who mentioned it to Bernadette. The very next morning, Bernadette telephoned Fr. McCormac to say that now her children were grown and left the nest, and they had moved to a new city, she would be happy to get involved in any way that was useful to his great work in the community. She said she was an experienced secretary; a qualified bookkeeper; she had done some nursing training - though she had to be honest and tell him that she had not completed the course, because of the arrival of her babies - contraception being frowned upon by the church, her family had arrived at very inopportune moments! And they had a little conspiratorial laugh together at that mutually understood hiccup! Fr. McCormack was delighted to accept her kind offer and thought there were a hundred and one ways that she could help him. So Bernie worked diligently and with purpose over the next couple of years, and familiarised herself with every aspect of the organisation, making herself quite indispensable to everybody. When the time came for the handover to a ‘lay’ organisation, there was a sham of a ‘selection process’ to decide who should be the Supremo to run the organisation - of course with the help and support of a Board of Trustees. The only candidate who appeared in any way confident enough and knowledgeable enough to inherit this role was, of course, one Bernadette Rosario O’Dwyer. She also had sufficient spondulick and bought-in muscle to either bribe or intimidate those that seemed reluctant to endorse her candidacy! The die was cast!

With the departure of the clergy, the organisation set about rebranding itself. They decided to apply officially for charitable status in their own right, and to call themselves “EireAid”. Over the years, this was frequently referred to good humouredly as “Earaid” by some with a humourous turn of phrase, and not so good humouredly, as ‘Bernaid’ by others. And sometimes by its staff too.

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