Monday 22 December 2014

'I had all of my life's desires - a beautiful son, a lovely house, great husband, but I was depressed'

Mary O'Rourke
Mary O'Rourke
Mary and Enda
Mary O'Rourke at home with one of her favourite paintings, of Drumcliff and Ben Bulben
Favourite photograph: Mary O'Rourke with her nephew Brian and Miriam O'Callaghan
Mary O'Rourke and Brian Lenihan
Mary O'Rourke
Mary O'Rourke

Former TD and deputy leader of Fianna Fail Mary O'Rourke talks about love, having children, her teaching career and how she got into politics.

Walking through the Midlands town of Athlone with Mary O'Rourke is what it must be like accompanying One Direction through Dundrum Town Centre.

Cars honk, tourist coaches stop in the middle of the road, drivers salute her and people walking on the streets make a beeline to chat to the genial former TD who served as deputy leader of Fianna Fail and was also leader of the Seanad.

Mary is great company and has a kind word for everyone as we enjoy tea and pear cake at the Left Bank Restaurant.

She is also a refreshingly honest breath of fresh air in a world stultified by political correctness.

Athlone is the centre of the universe for Mary, who turns 77 next month and has lived there very happily all of her life.

Her family moved there from Dublin when her mother, Annie, was pregnant with her. Sean Lemass had asked her dad, Patrick Lenihan, to run the Gentex textiles factory there. He would later own the Hodson Bay Hotel. In 1965 Patrick was elected as a Fianna Fail TD, a seat he held until his death, aged 67, in 1970.

Mary was the youngest of Patrick and Annie's four children -- always the tagger-on, she says, laughing.

She has a sister, Anne, and two brothers who have passed on. Brian was also a TD, and was actually elected before his father, and Paddy was a councillor.

"My parents met as students in Galway University, and he got a job in Revenue and she taught secondary school at Loreto in Bray, which was then a boarding school," says Mary.

"She said if she ever had daughters we would go there, and we did. I was only 12 and my sister was leaving the year I came in.

"She was the good girl and I was a bit rebellious, so I got into trouble at times. I was distinctly unhappy, always hungry, bored and cold, but I now realise that I got a great education there with the library and resources."

When she left school at 17, Mary went to UCD and studied Latin, history and English. She didn't want to become a teacher, and when her parents asked her to come back and work with them in the hotel, she was delighted, as she had actually met her husband, Enda, there when she was 18.

"I thought he was very good looking and had this Spanish, dark look about him," she says. "I really fell for the physical side of him. He was very nice and calm, and I was a bit over the top, so we were very different."

"I thought it would be easy, as my sister and brothers had no problems having children," she says. "I went to a gynaecologist in Dublin and he wasn't concerned as I was only 25. Enda even went to get tests and his sperm were 100pc mobile.

"We were put on calendars, and it was sex to order, so I would say, 'Right Enda, it's time', and he would say, 'Would you ever get back to work!'"

Appropriately enough, Mary's gynaecologist was the son of Fianna Fail founder Eamon de Valera, and happily Eamon Junior's advice did the trick.

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