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'Last night I lost my best friend' - McGrath's tribute to his mum Betty

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Paul McGrath with his mother Betty Lowth

Paul McGrath with his mother Betty Lowth

Paul McGrath with his mother Betty Lowth

Of all the heroes in Paul McGrath's life, his Ma was undeniably the most enduring.

Betty Lowth, who died on Thursday night at the age of 83 after a short, non-Covid-related illness, came to form an incredibly strong bond with the boy she had to give up to foster care within weeks of his birth on December 4, 1959.

Paul never knew his father, a Nigerian medical student, who Betty met at a student dance in the old Four Province Club on Harcourt Street in Dublin.

Pregnancy

The Ireland of that time was a place in which an out-of-wedlock pregnancy drew only spiteful commentary and, feeling unable to tell her family, Betty left for England.

She would see out the last weeks of her pregnancy in a nuns' home in Acton before giving birth to Paul in Ealing hospital in west London.

He was only ten weeks old when she had to put him into foster care in Dublin, her baby still a secret at home.

Back in England, Betty would send money to the Catholic Crusade to help pay for that care.

Mother and son were briefly re-united before Paul was then transferred into the Dublin orphanage system run by Smyly Trust Homes.

Betty began visiting her son regularly and, eventually, was able to tell her family of a boy who - over time - would make her own father, Patrick, hugely proud as he developed into possibly Ireland's greatest ever footballer.

A hugely private person, Betty, also had a daughter - Okune - who sadly passed away in March 1994 after a life spent battling a rare blood disorder.

She lived in Crumlin, married Noel Lowth and grew incredibly close to and protective of Paul over the years.

In his 2006 book, Back from the Brink, an entire chapter is devoted to Betty's story.

In the book, she reveals the heartbreak of their estrangement during his childhood. However, she also declares yet her never-ending love for her cherished son.

"Paul was 10 weeks old when I handed him over and though we are extremely close today, I have, I suppose spent the past four and a half decades trying to get him back," she wrote.

She revealed how journalists who doorstepped her at her Crumlin home were "wasting their time" seeking a comment about his "latest fall from grace".

"I don't like the attention. I don't trust it. I am an elderly woman now, praying every day for my son's health and happiness," she wrote.

"Above all, I want Paul to be safe," she wrote.

And in a poignant tribute to his mother, McGrath wrote on Twitter: "Last night I lost my best friend. My beautiful mum Betty passed away peacefully and today my heart is breaking.

"I owe everything to her. Sleep well Mum, love you. Paul x."

The tweet was accompanied with a link to the popular Van Morrison song Days Like This.