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Authors: Mary O'Rourke

Just Mary

BOOK: Just Mary
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To Feargal and Maeve, Aengus and Lisa, and their six lively children, Jennifer, Luke, Sarah, Sam, James and Scott

But most of all to my lovely Enda



Title page

Dedication page


Chapter 1: An Athlone Childhood

Chapter 2: Carpe Diem

Chapter 3: Marlborough Street

Chapter 4: Life at Home

Chapter 5: My Favourite Ministry

Chapter 6: Brian Lenihan Snr

Chapter 7: Europe and Education

Chapter 8: Yes, Minister

Chapter 9: Managing the Small Jumps

Chapter 10: Life in Opposition

Chapter 11: Public Enterprise

Chapter 12: The Loss of Enda

Chapter 13: 11 September 2001

Chapter 14: Life in the Upper Chamber

Chapter 15: A Christmas Visit to Abbeville

Chapter 16: Benchmarking and Beyond

Chapter 17: Back in the Dáil

Chapter 18: Recession and a Reckoning

Chapter 19: Dark Days

Chapter 20: Béal na Mbláth

Chapter 21: Ireland Gets a Bailout

Chapter 22: ‘We all partied’

Chapter 23: ‘Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care …’

Chapter 24: New Life Again


Copyright page

About the Author

About Gill & Macmillan


26 February 2011

It’s a dry, warm day, after a couple of weeks of really uncertain weather. I have joined many others in St Dominic’s Community Centre in Kenagh, Co. Longford, where
the combined count for Longford and Westmeath is being held. It is about four o’clock in the afternoon and it’s clear by now that I have lost my seat as one of the Fianna Fáil
representatives for the constituency. My active political career is ending here, in this spacious community hall.

So, who is with me? I have driven here with my older son, Feargal, who intended to travel down from Dublin for the count anyway, but who came early when he got the news that all was not going
well. Here with me also is my lovely niece, Gráinne Lenihan, daughter of my late brother, Paddy Lenihan, who died just four short months earlier. Gráinne and I are soul sisters on
many issues and, like my two stalwart sons, she worked hard for me in that General Election. My younger son, Aengus, is here too and has been in the count since 8.30 a.m., along with
Mícheál Ó’Faoláin, a dear friend who was in charge of so much in my election campaigns and who had ordered all the people keeping the tallies to arrive as early as
possible that morning.

Was I on the floor with despair? No! As I said to everyone in the centre, I was disappointed but not devastated, and that is the most accurate way of describing how I felt. I decided to adopt
Avril Doyle’s mantra, which always made such an impression on me. She had been defeated in one of her election campaigns in Wexford and she said, ‘Hold on, what’s all the crying
for? No one died!’ Deep within me, that is really the way I felt. I had lost my husband, Enda. I had lost my two brothers, Brian and then Paddy. These deaths, as well as the very poor
prognosis for my dear nephew Brian Lenihan in his battle with pancreatic cancer, weighed heavily on me (Brian would pass away less than six months later, of course), and I had an immeasurable
amount of grief within me. Losing a parliamentary seat, whilst catastrophic in career terms, is clearly not in any way comparable with the loss of such dear loved ones from one’s life.

When I had arrived at St Dominic’s in Kenagh, I met all the team who had worked so hard for me, along with Mícheál and my great friend and valiant Director of Elections, P.J.
Coghill. As the outcome became ever clearer, I found that my job would be to console them, rather than theirs to console me. I think that is what keeps one strong on such an occasion: it certainly
kept me strong. I went through the motions. I did the national television and radio; I did all the local
and radio stations too. I stayed up on the balcony, looking down,
keeping up a positive front. But the numbers were already written up for me — literally — and I was about to be eliminated.

Now, I had form in this. Back in 2002, I had lost my seat after 20 continuous years in the Dáil. I had subsequently gone into Seanad Éireann, appointed by the then Taoiseach,
Bertie Ahern, and had indeed enjoyed a highly productive five years as Leader of that house. But on this occasion, the defeat was somewhat final. I knew that the end of my active political life had
arrived — but I did not intend it to be the end of my active, living life. In the cards and the letters and the phone calls that followed, so many said to me, ‘Enjoy your
retirement’. I didn’t intend to retire, however. I didn’t feel like retiring. I wanted to do things; I wanted to be involved; I wanted to continue to have a voice.

That night, we all went back to my home in Athlone. Throughout the evening, many other people called in, those who had been less directly involved in my political campaign but who were all dear
friends who had contributed in other ways. Among these of course were Mícheál Ó’Faoláin’s lovely wife Maura, and my close friends, Hugh and Celine Campbell,
and Niall and Angela McCormack. We had a few glasses of wine or a few gins and again, my job was to talk things through with everyone, to reassure them and allow them to reassure me. Eventually
they all left and it was just my son Feargal and I. He wanted to stay with me, but I insisted, ‘No Feargal, I like my own company. I’m happy to be on my own.’ So, finally alone, I
sat down in my familiar easy chair in my familiar living room with all my familiar things around me. And I found myself thinking back to when the long odyssey of my political life had first begun.
I went back, back, back . . .

I went back to 1944. I was a young child, seven years old, and living in the town of Athlone with my mother and father, my sister Anne, who was four years older than me, my brother Paddy, who
was six years older and my brother Brian, who was seven years my senior. It was a night of great excitement in our home town, because the chief of the Fianna Fáil Party, Éamon de
Valera, was there to give impetus to a General Election campaign which had lacked lustre until that point. That evening we had all been brought by our parents to the town centre of Athlone, where
de Valera spoke from a platform outside the church in what was then called the Market Square (now more often called St Peter’s Square). Huge crowds, huge excitement, huge commotion and, to my
childish eyes, the huge, imposing figure of the man in the long black coat, there in the Square. He was talking and talking — in a funny voice. A high-pitched voice, I remember thinking at
the time, and with an odd emphasis on certain words.

After that, it was everyone back to our house in Gentex (the Athlone General Textiles factory complex) and a whole crowding in of all of the Fianna Fáil faithful to meet at first-hand
‘the Chief’, there, in our home. My sister Anne and I were told to go to bed, but our brothers, being older, and politics being then as now very much a male world, jostled in to the
dining room-cum-living room with the others. And then the door was firmly closed. The drinking began and the serving of tea and sandwiches; and the tumult of the talking and the shouting rose and
fell and ebbed and flowed throughout the night.

In our shared bedroom, my sister quickly fell asleep, but for me the excitement of it all was far too great for such a thing as sleep. I soon crept out of bed and up the long, dark corridor to
the noisy living room and the vibrancy and clamour which, even at my very young age of seven years, drew me irresistibly towards it. I lay down on the ground at that door, knowing that there was no
need for anyone to use it as a passage to the bathroom, as there was a bathroom on the other side of the living room, which I had heard people going into. As I lay in that dark corridor, pressing
my ear to the door, it seemed to me that I was living in the middle of huge excitement, and that I was part of it all, even though I was outside of it.

Voices rose and fell. Laughter boomed out. Arguments broke out and animated discussions waxed and waned. There was the clinking of glasses, the acrid smell of cigarette smoke (at that time,
smoking was allowed always and anywhere). It seemed to my childish senses and my very young mind that this was real life. This was the tumult and the talk that I wished to be part of. And there and
then, I determined that I would be part of it, of that excitement which was unfolding in our house. Not only that, however: I knew that I wanted to be involved in this sort of life in the years
ahead. I wanted to be someone who knew about politics, who was part of the political world and to whom politics meant as much as it did to those gathered in our house that night.

Finally, tiredness overcame me and I crept back to bed and pulled up the covers around me. But my mind jumped and sprang for a good while after that, and I was still awake to hear people
departing loudly with ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Slán Leat’ and ‘Slán Abhaile’. And then, a single sound remained — the odd intonation and timbre again
of what I knew was the voice of Éamon de Valera.

Back to the present, and me sitting alone in my home in Arcadia in Athlone on that night of February 2011, contemplating the end of my professional life in politics. Was I very sad? No, I
wasn’t. I knew I had worked at politics all my life, had given it my very best shot and now I was back in the house where my very happy domestic life had played out, where I had lived from
the very beginning of my marriage with Enda, the only man I ever loved and who had brought such happiness to me and to our family. Wrapped in the warm mantle of happy memories, I felt somehow safe
and secure. As far as my life in politics went, of course some of the memories were good and some were bad, but undoubtedly my journey began on that very far off day in 1944, as the seven-year-old
with the lively mind who wanted to know all that was going on. And I find myself in 2012 at age 75, still wanting to know all that is happening in political life and in life in general too.

After that day of the count in Kenagh, I decided that I was going to write a book about my life. Not a high and mighty book — how could it be? — but an ordinary book, detailing my
life in and out of politics over the years: one which would aim to shed some light on the key events of a long career in public life. I hope that those reading this narrative will find that I have
been able to go some way to achieving that aim.


y father was a County Clare man, P.J. Lenihan, from Lickeen, Kilfenora. My mother was from Drumcliff in County Sligo. They met as students at
University College, Galway, where my mother was doing a
and my father was doing Arts and then later a Law degree. Both bright, full of life and highly intelligent, they
quickly fell in love with one another.

BOOK: Just Mary
11.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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