Saturday 3 December 2016

The Lenihan family 'rock' Ann dies after a short illness

Published 26/10/2016 | 02:30

Ann Lenihan and her husband Brian Snr at the launch of a book she co-wrote in 1990 (Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection).
Ann Lenihan and her husband Brian Snr at the launch of a book she co-wrote in 1990 (Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection).

Ann Lenihan, wife and mother to two of the country's most senior political figures, has died, aged 79.

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Ms Lenihan married Brian Lenihan Senior in 1958 and was a major support to him in his long political career in Fianna Fáil, which saw him serve in many ministerial jobs, including Tánaiste and Minister for Education, Justice and Foreign Affairs.

Ann Lenihan holding flowers while canvassing for her husband during the presidential campaign in 1990 Picture: John Carlos
Ann Lenihan holding flowers while canvassing for her husband during the presidential campaign in 1990 Picture: John Carlos

At the time of their marriage, Ann Devine, as she was then known, was just 19, and he was 24. Her sister-in-law and close friend, Mary O'Rourke, recalled she was a renowned beauty known as "the belle of Athlone".

"Through her husband Brian's long career she was his rock and a continual help and support. She had a great capacity for friendship, a real aura of friendship about her, and this helped him in his various posts," Ms O'Rourke said.

When they first met, she was studying medicine at University College Galway, and planning to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Joan, who was a medical doctor.

But her marriage ended her studies, though in later life she did a BA degree in history and archaeology.

Ann Lenihan at the funeral of her son Brian Jnr in 2011, with Mary O’Rourke, Brian’s aunt (second left), and Conor Lenihan (right) Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Ann Lenihan at the funeral of her son Brian Jnr in 2011, with Mary O’Rourke, Brian’s aunt (second left), and Conor Lenihan (right) Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

The Lenihan family lived firstly in Athlone and Brian Lenihan was a TD for Roscommon from 1961-1973.

After electoral defeat in 1973 the family moved to Castleknock in west Dublin and Ms Lenihan set up home, for an eventual family of five children, while her husband served as a Senator.

In 1977 he was returned as a Dublin West TD and appointed again to the Cabinet. In 1989 she accompanied her husband, who was stricken by cancer, to the Mayo Clinic in the USA, where he underwent a liver transplant.

The visit was catalogued in a book co-written by Ms Lenihan called 'No problem: To Mayo and Back'. She wrote it in collaboration with Irish Independent social diarist, Angela Phelan, who sadly died in 2009.

Mrs Lenihan greets mourners at the funeral of Brian Lenihan Jnr in 2011 Picture: Tom Burke
Mrs Lenihan greets mourners at the funeral of Brian Lenihan Jnr in 2011 Picture: Tom Burke

He got a new lease of life and even stood unsuccessfully for the Irish Presidency amid much controversy. But the illness eventually defeated him and he died in 1995, aged 64.

Later Ms Lenihan would be inadvertently dragged into controversy about money raised by Charlie Haughey to help fund her husband's treatment in the USA. In 1999 she briefly gave evidence to the Moriarty Tribunal on the issue.

In 2006 Mr Justice Moriarty found that Haughey "personally misappropriated" a large amount of the funds raised for the transplant in the United States for the man he described as his "closest political friend".

In 1996, Ms Lenihan's son, Brian Junior, won the Dublin West Dáil seat. He went on to serve as Finance Minister through the financial crisis from 2008-2011 but was also stricken with cancer in 2009, and died in 2011 aged 52.

Ann Lenihan pictured in 2001 Picture: Donal Doherty
Ann Lenihan pictured in 2001 Picture: Donal Doherty

Ms Lenihan was last night described as having a keen interest in politics all her life. Another son, Conor, was elected a TD for Dublin South West in 1997, and went on to serve as a junior minister.

Her sister-in-law, Mary O'Rourke, was also a long-time senior politician serving in several ministerial posts. Recently, Ms O'Rourke wrote lovingly about Ms Lenihan in her memoir, 'Letters of My Life', and described her as "my best woman friend".

Ms Lenihan's last public outing was for her sister-in-law's book launch earlier this month. She was taken to the Mater Hospital on Monday by her daughter, Anita, and died there yesterday.

Ms Lenihan had a number of health reverses in recent years and had recently taken to using a wheelchair for outings. But friends said she remained very cheerful and engaged in life and maintained a keen interest in politics and current affairs.

Apart from the tragic loss of her husband and son, Ms Lenihan and the rest of the family had to endure another great tragedy.

In 1965, Brian Junior's five-year-old brother, Mark, died of leukaemia when the future finance minister was just six.

Brian Junior had never talked about the death but it came out when he was being interviewed with his aunt, Mary O'Rourke, by RTÉ's Miriam O'Callaghan in 2010. He recalled the Christmas beforehand, where his brother could tell he was quite sick and lamented the lack of advances in medical science at the time, which would have saved that young life.

In the Dáil last night Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary paid a warm tribute to Ms Lenihan.

Party leader Micheál Martin said she had passed on a sense of civic duty to her family.

Irish Independent

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