By Laura Lynott
A granddad is dreaming of a Christmas wish – that he might finally meet a little girl he regards as his “grand-daughter” – a child born thousands of miles away in war-torn Gaza and named Eileen as a tribute to Ireland.
Mick Breen, 71, has ‘virtually’ adopted little Eileen and her mother, Nedaa Al-Abadlah, 25, despite never having met them.
Mick from near New Ross, Co Wexford, writes to Nedaa almost daily on Facebook and has even introduced his own grandchildren, Arlo McGrath, 7, Angelina, 17, Lydia, 14, Jessie, 10, and Leantha, just 2, to the little girl and her mother online – where the children have chatted and made videos and songs for the pair.
The children count Eileen as being like their sister despite having never tickled the one-year-old’s toes or held her hand.
Mick said: “Nedaa feels like a daughter to me now and Eileen is like a granddaughter. I feel privileged to have them in my life. They are my family and I’d love to meet them, to see Eileen growing up in a peaceful country like Ireland. But there’s a sense of such powerlessness because I know I can’t help them even though I really want to.“They have brought an old man such joy towards the end of my life.”
This friendship was formed from a situation of despair, when Nedaa tried to reach out to Ireland for support after witnessing the horrors of war. If Mick and his family could get just one wish for the festive season it would be to meet their other family.
Nedaa welcomed people on an Irish flotilla to Gaza in 2011 and later befriended Mick on Facebook in 2012 – a year when 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians, six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – during a reported Israeli strike offensive on the strip.
By 2014, Nedaa had become part of the Breen family – with regular Facebook chats and video calls – but that same year, during the worst period of bloodshed in Gaza, they lost contact with her and feared the worst.
Between 8 July and 27 August, that year more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel. The UN said the vast majority of Palestinian deaths were civilian. And figures from previous operations in the six years prior, civilians had also been killed and injured.
Nedaa’s husband Saif, 38, was working in the United Arab Emirates at the time and Mick managed to track him down to find out if she was alive – because power cuts meant they had no way of reaching her.
Nedaa, a translator in Gaza, said: “Mick treats me as his daughter and I love him as my father. His daughters feel like my sisters, and his grandchildren, like my cousins.
“I would love to visit Ireland because my other family is there, the Breens. I love them from the bottom of my heart, they’ve been the best family and supporters, from the other side of the world.“I feel like Ireland is my second home now.”
Mick has written to Neddaa during times of bloodshed, when sadly the mother has seen some terrible sights – but he feel “powerless, like words are just platitudes,” because he can’t help them.
But Nedaa insists the friendship, has given her “hope” in hours of darkness. She called her baby Eileen, a name “that’s Irish and has so much meaning.”
And despite the horrors of her own situation, Nedaa says she worries when Mick is not feeling well. She worries, she admits, just as any daughter does.
Neddaa is a blogger and dreams one day of becoming a journalist. She dedicated one blog, ‘Dear Mick’ to the Wexford man.
The father-of-three daughters and granddad-of-eight, said: “There was never a sense of me giving anything to Nedaa and Eileen.
“It’s them who’s enriched an old man’s life. It seems so little but just talking to her seems to mean the world.
“Perhaps if this story helps others see humanity, then I’ve really helped change things. Because right now there’s nearly a process of dehumanisation when we see and hear what happens in Gaza.
“These people aren’t statistics and this lady and her little girl are just like members of my family whom I dream I’ll one day meet.”
Mick hopes that this Christmas and in the New Year that Ireland stops to remember the people of Gaza and that it will soon become possible for the mother and daughter to visit Ireland.