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Monday 5 December 2016

'One day a miracle came to my door'

Aoife Feeney, widow of the celebrated journalist John Feeney, has written a savagely satirical and sexually explicit novel about modern Irish society

Published 08/10/2011 | 05:00

Aoife Feeney's life was blighted by tragedy when, at the age of 36, she was widowed, leaving her to rear her five sons. (The eldest was 13 and the youngest 14 months old.)

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On November 13, 1984, her husband John Feeney, the well-known Evening Herald journalist, was killed in a plane crash with eight others, including the pilot and three other journalists.

The twin engine plane, on an annual trip to the Beaujolais wine country in France, crashed into a hill near Eastbourne on the south east coast of England. Aoife has dedicated her first novel -- The Rule of War -- to her late husband.

Even though she remarried in 2003, all these years later her grief remains raw. As she talks about John's accident, her voice softens.

"It was a Beaujolais Nouveau thing that he did every year. It was a publicity junket and he brought back wine. We said goodbye. It was just after my birthday and he was to buy me a present in Paris.

"In the evening I heard about the crash but it was described as a Dutch plane and I thought to myself, I'm glad it's not John. I thought of all those poor people who had died."

Finally she learnt that it was John's plane.

"His body was found in a field in England but I wasn't allowed to look at it, which I still now regret. I was destroyed. Nobody could have understood how much I loved him. He was a magnificent father and a really gentle, kind person. Maybe he was a little bit dysfunctional but he was brilliant fun."

They met at a Christian Movement meeting in UCD in 1968, when John was the auditor of the society.

"I fell head over heels in love with him," she says.

"I was besotted. He was my first boyfriend of any significance. It was a very intense love affair. We decided to get married. My parents were horrified.

"We had a very exciting life. John was beautiful and intelligent and he had all these fantastic ideas. He was angry about the world we lived in and he didn't lie down under anything."

After John's death, Aoife was numb with grief. She cooked dinners for the children and carried on in a blur.

The Irish Independent paid a pension and the insurance company for the plane paid as well, so she had enough to live on. But her spirit was feeble.

"I just felt this awful despair. That was when Kevin arrived at the gate."

Kevin Barry, a Dublin-born academic, had been a friend of John's. Aoife remembers that he had struck her as stand-offish.

"When he arrived at the front door, I wasn't all that keen. He started to cook the dinner and then he brought stuff for my eyes because they were sore from all the crying. He was very kind."

Kevin was separated from his wife with whom he had four children.

"My children and his children were very good friends and they have remained so ever since. Kevin kept coming around. He rescued me. Up until then, I had just shut down.

"I felt that John engineered Kevin arriving and being there, to give me a shove to smile. It was great that I was able to be lighthearted. It was a miracle."

Gradually they fell in love together and 19 years ago, they had a daughter -- Rebecca. They married in 2003.

"Kevin was utterly accepting. He saw John as a person that ought to be mourned and his memory honoured and for the children as well."

She tells me that he also got on very well with her sons. Kevin has now retired from lecturing -- he was an English professor at UCG.

When they're not living in Dublin, they spend chunks of time in their second home in France, where Aoife works on her second novel, and paints, while Kevin reads and writes. Her children lead varied lives. She talks about them with pride.

"Larkin is a psychiatrist living in Dublin. Chekhov is an anarchist who also is a researcher in computer science in Trinity. Johnny is a financial analyst and lives in Japan. Luke is a diplomat in South Africa.

"Simon is an alternative energy engineer living in Glasgow, while Rebecca has just finished second year in Trinity in science."

Having endured great pain, Aoife Feeney finally found happiness again.

"I went from one existence to another. I began to live in a different way. It took a while but I got my spirit back."

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