Cardiologist Mulcahy tells of his heartbreak in moving memoir
Published 05/09/2010 | 05:00
Risteard Mulcahy, the internationally renowned cardiologist and health campaigner, has candidly spoken of the breakdown of his marriage, which saw him eventually walk out on his wife and six children.
In his recently published book, Memoirs of a Medical Maverick, Mulcahy, 88, son of General Richard Mulcahy, a former leader of Fine Gael, also writes of how he at one time became involved with a woman who herself ended the relationship when she fell in love with an athlete -- another woman.
It was a reminder that many, if not all, people were by nature bisexual, but this was so often concealed by the culture we live in. Mulcahy relates his own curiosity about the prospect of homosexual love, of which he had no experience, nor did he ever have a wish to seek such an opportunity.
"However, I am capable of admiring a young and handsome athletic youth or young man, particularly seeing him with a good running style and the picture of health," he writes.
He wonders what would have followed if he had not been in a conventional and happy heterosexual relationship: "No anthropologist familiar with human history and the myriad human societies which peopled the world could think that love between two people of the same sex is abnormal or unnatural, whether expressed in emotional or physical terms.
"Love has too wide a meaning for such restrictive views, and religion must bear some of the blame for the hostility towards some natural forms of love."
Mulcahy tells of how his second wife, Louise Hederman -- a nurse with whom he enjoyed a 20-year courtship before marriage -- came to care for his first wife, Aileen, following her hip operation.
"Louise stayed with her in Aileen's home for 10 days during early convalescence and was closely involved with Aileen during subsequent illnesses." Aileen died in July 2008, after a long illness.
Mulcahy concludes that the lesson he learned was that a marriage that was not "born in heaven" may be best dissolved, but that success in such a step depended on generosity and forgiveness on the part of parents and children, and understanding on the part of friends.
A noted researcher, historian, exercise enthusiast and environmentalist, Mulcahy revisits his childhood in Rathmines in his memoir, his fast times as a young doctor in London, his early career delivering babies in some of Dublin's worst slums and his eminent career in cardiology and as a high-profile health campaigner and one of the first anti-smoking advocates in the country.
But he writes most movingly when he discusses the breakdown of his marriage to Aileen, whom he had first met while holidaying and golfing in Lahinch, Co Clare. "She was lively and most attractive and our relationship blossomed in a matter of a day or two," he says. He proposed before he left and they were married four months later. They had six children, three boys and three girls, which he attributed to her "remarkable fertility". He remained in love with Aileen for 10 years, but gradually incompatabilities, some of which were initially concealed by their love, came to dominate his relationship with her.
Her assertiveness, he says, was a major problem. Everything was black and white. Discussion about differences was not possible and they had little in common in terms of social, intellectual and personal matters.
"I suffered from depression each time I returned to the house -- and instead of sharing my day with her and the children, I felt the loneliness of isolation."
Nobody, least of all his wife, was aware of his decision to end the marriage until the last moment before his departure from the home. His decision caused considerable surprise among friends and at his hospital, St Vincent's.
There was huge pressure on him to change his mind, including from two priests, one of whom lost his temper with him -- the other ended up sharing a bottle of whiskey.
"The moment of parting was heart-rending. The six children were sitting in our nursery with Aileen. I simply opened the door and said goodbye. I was unable to say or do anything more.
"Richard [his son] accompanied me to the car. I remained mute and I got into the car. I drove away as Richard stood weeping on the gravel. I think it was the worst moment in my life."
Memoirs of a Medical Maverick, by Risteard Mulcahy is published by Liberties Press, price €19.99.