Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

The modest, shy (and very proud) mum who gave Rory McIlroy his drive

Mother love: Rory McIlroy embraces his mum Rosie after winning The Open at Hoylake
Family first: Rory with mum Rosie
Proud uncle: Rosie's brother Mickey McDonald

When Rory McIlroy beckoned his mother onto the green to share his Open glory, he knew better than anyone how much she'd sacrificed to shape his success.

As Rosie McIlroy stepped onto the green to embrace her son at Royal Liverpool on Sunday, the unassuming mum unwittingly gave golf one of its most memorable moments.

In a moving display of pure parental pride Rosie's tears of joy were felt by many of the millions watching from around the world as her son Rory clinched his third Major title.

As someone who is happier to stay in the background, it was a rare but well-deserved moment in the spotlight for the woman who has sacrificed so much to help her son achieve his dreams.

And as a thrilled Rory embraced her on the 18th hole it was obvious too that it meant the world to the new Open champion that his mum was there to share in his moment of glory.

"This one is for you mum," he declared as he lifted the coveted Claret Jug and stepped into the history books as the first European to win three of the four Majors since the Masters tournament, the one that so far eludes him, was founded in 1934.

It was the first time Rosie was there to see her son win a Major. His dad Gerry shared his joy when he won the 2011 US Open and the 2012 USA PGA Championship.

For Rosie, who worked night shifts in a factory to help fund her young son's passion for golf, all of the sacrifice must have seemed worthwhile in that glorious moment in Liverpool on Sunday.

Smart but casually dressed in white and black pin-striped knee length golfing trousers and a white and navy short sleeved top with her handbag casually slung across her chest, Rosie couldn't conceal her delight at her son's latest success.

Her tears flowed as she embraced the young man who has given her many moments of maternal pride over the years.

And of course much of Rory's character today – his unassuming, friendly and personable nature – is also due to the values that Rosie and her husband instilled in their only son.

The modesty which the global star is famed for came from his down to earth parents, whose humble background and hard work ethic helped make him the global star he is today.

Rosie (54), grew up in Lurgan's Taghnevan estate, the eldest daughter of the late Bridie and Danny McDonald.

Bridie stayed at home to raise their five children while Danny was well-known in the town for his ice-cream van.

Rosie has two sisters, Leanne (38), and Fiona (46), and two brothers, Gregory (42), and Michael (55).

Michael McDonald, better known as Mickey, was a football star for Glenavon and Cliftonville in the Seventies and Eighties when he was famed for being a prolific goal scorer. He also played Gaelic football for Armagh.

Rosie was a big supporter of her brother's career and made many friends across the religious divide in Lurgan, attending matches in Mourneview Park to cheer on her talented sibling.

She was a pupil of St Mary's High School in Lurgan and left at the age of 16, starting work in the Optical factory in the Co Armagh town.

She is remembered by friends in her home town as a "bubbly" teen who loved nights out at The Coach Inn in Banbridge.

Her hard work ethic was obvious even back in her teens when, as well as doing full shifts in the Optical factory, she often helped her dad on his ice-cream round.

Rosie moved with friends to Belfast where she worked as a waitress at nights and met her barman husband Gerry, who is from Holywood.

And it was in the Co Down seaside town where the couple settled and where their son – and only child – Rory was born.

When it became obvious at an early age that Rory had a special talent and passion for golf, both Gerry and Rosie worked hard to help give him every chance to become the sporting superstar he is today.

Friends insist, though, that neither parent "pushed" their son into the sport.

Rosie's brother Michael says: "They didn't have a lot of money and Rosie and Gerry both worked very hard and Rosie worked nights all the time to get the money together to support Rory.

"They wanted to do it because he loved it so much and they wanted to give him every opportunity they could but they never pushed him into it.

"Rosie is a brilliant mum but she was also strict with Rory. She wouldn't have given him everything and anything he wanted.

"He was brought up very well by both parents and if he did anything wrong Rosie wasn't afraid to ground him. She gave him boundaries. She is a great mum."

Rory was just one year old when his dad Gerry took him to Holywood Golf Club and it's now the stuff of legends that he was holding a golf club before he could walk.

His dad has a favourite memory of him on the course, aged one, wearing a sweater knitted by Rosie.

At the age of two he was sending golf balls 40 yards down the fairways. When he won the World Under 10s Championships in Doral in Tampa in the US, his parents made a pact to work as hard as they could to fund his golf lessons and send him to compete with the greatest players in the world.

Gerry worked from 8am until noon as a cleaner at a sports club and then from noon to 6pm as barman in Holywood Golf Club where, after going home for tea with Rory and Rosie, he returned to work from 7pm until midnight.

Meanwhile, Rosie was at home during the day for Rory but worked the nightshift at the 3M factory and it was her wages which were saved to take Rory to Junior Golf Championships around the world. In between classes at the local St Patrick's Primary School and then Sullivan Upper, Rory devoted most of his spare time to golf.

While it was tough on both of them, it was Rosie who kept things in perspective when she often reminded Gerry "one day this could all be worthwhile".

Neither could have guessed then just how big a star their talented young son would become.

Nor does Rosie find it easy to watch her son compete. Talking later about his dramatic collapse in the Masters in 2011, she freely admitted that tension almost got the better of her – and her husband Gerry found that she was so hyper about the final round he went to their son's then home in Moneyragh to look after his dogs and watch it there.

Recalling that weekend, Rosie said: "My sister was with me all weekend but she had tickets for a concert, I think it was Robbie Williams, so off she went. I had cabin fever, I was so nervous about the final round. So I went out and drove over to the other side of Belfast to get my favourite pizza. But I could only eat one slice of it, my stomach just closed up. I couldn't eat."

And as it became clear the day was going disastrously wrong for her son, she admitted that she was crying her eyes out. In fact, in a comic footnote to the meltdown, it was Rory himself who tried to put some perspective on his misfortune.

Rosie said: "I actually didn't speak to him until the following day. He rang me in the afternoon. I was more upset than he was, I think. He said: 'Mum, it's only a game of golf. That's the way it goes'."

Despite Rory's fame and fortune, friends insist that Rosie – like her husband Gerry – is still the same down to earth, unassuming person they have always respected and loved. One friend said: "They are both the salt of the earth, Rory's success hasn't changed them one bit.

"Of course, they are very proud of him. Rory, too, is very grounded, which reflects just how well they brought him up."

Of particular credit to the couple is how they strove to bring up their son in a non-sectarian environment, despite a harrowing family tragedy that would have left many others angry and bitter for years.

Joe McIlroy, his father's uncle and Rory's great-uncle, was shot dead by a UVF gunman on the night of November 21, 1972, in his home in east Belfast. The father of four young daughters had been fixing the washing machine in the kitchen when he was murdered.

But the McIlroys evidently refused to let the sectarian hatred that was wreaking murder and mayhem in homes on all sides across Northern Ireland define their future.

Though Rory attended a Catholic primary school, he then moved to a religiously mixed grammar school. There, the message was one of political moderation – the school motto, which is printed on pupils' blazers, is Lamh Foisdineach An Uachtar – Irish for "with the gentle hand foremost".

Now, in many ways, Rory is one of the post-conflict generation – someone who is not easily defined. Perhaps because he has been so at home with the Ulster flag and was a jubilant recipient of an MBE, his recent announcement that he would play for Ireland at the 2016 Olympics passed by without much fuss. Ironically, it is commentators in Britain, not Northern Ireland, who now seem more exercised at the prospect of this sporting genius not turning out for them.

Undoubtedly, Rory's success has made life considerably easier for his parents who no longer have to work, but they are as devoted as ever in their support of their son's career.

While they no longer attend all of his major tournaments together they have now agreed a routine where Rosie cheers him on at the Masters and British Open every year while Gerry attends the other two majors.

For Rosie, family still means everything and Rory is usually found at the centre of regular get-togethers.

His uncle Michael says: "We all get together often and usually at Christmas Rosie, Gerry and Rory would come to Lurgan to be with family.

"Rosie is a real family person. Outside of supporting Rory, family is her main interest.

"She is quiet and unassuming and just lives for her family."

The close family bond could not have been more obvious than in the moments following Rory's latest victory on Sunday.

As he joined golfing great Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as one of only three players to win three Majors by the age of 25, there was only one thought on his mind – to share it with his mum.

He waved her from the back of the green to come and join him and later admitted how much he had to struggle to keep his emotions in check.

He said: "I was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out.

"The support of my parents has been incredible – even growing up and doing everything, the sacrifices they made for me.

"Even to this day, they're the two people in this world that I can talk to about anything; I couldn't ask to have two better parents. They're there for me at the worst of times, like this time last year after missing the cut, or the best of times, walking off as the champion golfer of the year.

"I can't speak highly enough of my parents. They're the best people in the world."

Watching proudly at home, it was their extended family, more than anyone else, that knew how much that very public clinch between Rory and Rosie meant to mother and son.

Michael adds: "I was very surprised to see Rosie going onto the green. She is so shy but I was so glad to see it. She deserved to be there. She is a wonderful mum."

Other famously sporting mums ...

A mother's love and devotion has driven many a world champion onwards to achieve their sporting dream.

One of the most famous high achieving mothers in sport is Judy Murray, mother of Andy and Jamie Murray. The 54-year-old tennis coach was there to see him win Wimbledon last year and provide solace after his quarter final defeat this year

Like Judy Murray, Oracene Price – the mother of former Grand Slam champs Venus and Serena Williams – is also a tennis coach. She is regularly seen watching her daughters play in tennis finals around the world

And again in the high-pressure world of tennis, iconic US player Jimmy Connors' mum Gloria was a strong influence on the young man's drive and ambition in the game. In his autobiography, The Outsider, he recalled a traumatic incident in his childhood in which he witnessed his mother, grandfather and grandmother being savagely beaten by two hoodlums from his local neighbourhood.

"When I needed something to push me to another level during matches, I would remember that day," he recalled.

For her part, Gloria – a former professional player who honed her son's skills from an early age – became well-known for urging Jimmy on from the sidelines

Closer to home, Carl Frampton's mum Flo will definitely be ringside when he bids to become world champion in his own backyard as he fights Kiko Martinez at the Titantic Quarter in September.

The Tiger's Bay mum took Carl down to the local boxing club when he was just a youngster, and ever since she and husband Craig have been his most devoted supporters.

Where possible, the 26-year-old's mother is always at his fights and is known to proudly mention the fact to shoppers in the Asda shop that she works in – that her son is Northern Ireland's next world champion in the making

Tony (AP) McCoy's mother Claire insists on calling her record-breaking son by his christened name Anthony.

One of the biggest contributions she made to his phenomenal career as a jump jockey was allowing him to live away from home in his mid-teens. Despite missing him every single day, she showed the same strength of character that this titan of the horse racing world does every time he rides – more often than not – a winner. AP credits his parents, particularly his mother, for instilling in him respect for hard work and for others.

Further Reading

 

 

 

 

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Nightlife Galleries

More

Latest Food and Drink News

Latest Motoring News