Saturday 21 January 2017

The Lenihan family 'rock' Ann Lenihan has died

Published 25/10/2016 | 18:45

The late Brian Snr and his wife Ann Lenihan pictured in 1990
The late Brian Snr and his wife Ann Lenihan pictured in 1990
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, 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 the their marriage, Ann Devine, as she was then known, was just 19, and was he was aged 24. Her sister-in-law and close friend, Mary O’Rourke, recalled that she was a renowned beauty known to many 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. 

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 Ann Lenihan set up home, for an eventual family of five children, while her husband served as a Senator.

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

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

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 1996, Ann 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 in turn stricken with cancer in 2009, and died in 2011 aged 52.

Ann Lenihan in 2001
Ann Lenihan in 2001

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 and died there yesterday.

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