The birthday tradition in the Morrissey household was the same for every family member. The centrepiece was always the fresh cream cake from SuperValu in Castletroy, Limerick - always fresh, whipped cream, never buttercream.
"Ruth died on Sunday and Libby's ninth birthday was on Monday. Me and Ruth had the cake bought and paid for. We still went ahead with the party. Libby's friends came up. We had cake," said Paul Morrissey. "We always have birthdays at home because that's what we did when we were growing up. It was all about home."
Paul and his daughter Libby are now left with a gaping hole in their hearts and in their suburban home, a place he and Ruth once planned to fill with a clatter of children.
Ruth died last Sunday, aged 39, six years after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, one of the 221 Plus women whose smear tests were incorrectly read. The High Court found negligence and breach of duty by two laboratories in the reporting of Ruth's slides.
She was awarded €2.16m in damages last year. That was not the end of her arduous legal journey. The State Claims Agency joined the laboratories in appealing to the Supreme Court to get legal clarity on an issue that was ultimately struck out in no uncertain terms by the chief justice in March [see panel].
As Libby experienced her first birthday without her mother, tributes to Ruth poured in from high places. A woman whose campaign for truth and justice leaves a legacy of courage, said President Michael D Higgins. A brave and courageous woman who worked tirelessly for others, said the Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who also apologised directly to her - the first time the State had done so.
Yes, Ruth was all of those things, said Paul. But he tells a story ...
The other day, he said, he saw something funny and automatically turned to tell Ruth. "I said, 'Ruth, look at that…' Then I realised, it dawned on me that I had no one to tell. She wasn't here with me. And over the next few days, weeks and months that's when it's going to hit me. Apology? That means nothing to me, nothing at all. I just want my wife. There is no money in the world, there is nothing worth this. Nothing."
On Friday evening, Paul was on the phone from Limerick, keen to share his memories of the woman he loved. As he chatted about Ruth, a tone of bewilderment would creep into his voice every now and then, as though he was just struck by the thought that she was no longer there.
She was a hero and a fearless advocate, who fought her battles in unimaginable pain that she usually played down to others. But Paul likes to remember her as the woman who was his best friend, wife and a mother, a kind, funny and big-hearted woman, who wanted brothers and sisters for Libby and who wanted to continue on the upward trajectory of her career. She was a manager at UPS, the US multinational in Shannon.
She was 17 when he first clapped eyes on her in Limerick city. He was 19. She happened to pass his house one day. She was walking with her cousin, who lived nearby. Ruth worked in Dunnes Stores at the time but even her Dunnes uniform couldn't detract from her pretty face and warm eyes. She wore her brown hair short. Paul Morrissey was instantly attracted.
"I knew straight away… I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure she did. I had to put a bit of work into it. She definitely made me work for a while. I was working on her cousin and all, to ask her [out]."
When they first started going out, Ruth used to get Paul into the nightclub even though she was only 17 and he was 19.
Ruth and her beloved husband Paul in 2019. Photo: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie
Ruth wore a bright red dress for their wedding in October 2008. Libby came along in 2011, a joyous year but a difficult one, when both Paul and Ruth lost their mothers. They bought a four-bedroom house with a view to filling it with more children. They could not have foreseen what was coming.
Ruth was diagnosed withcervical cancer in May 2014. The cancer was detected not through screening - her smear tests in 2009 and 2012 were reported clear - but through persistent bleeding. It transpired the results were inaccurate.
The High Court was intimidating and the stress immense, but Paul praised the compassion of Mr Justice Kevin Cross. "We faced 17 solicitors and barristers. There weren't enough chairs; they had to bring in chairs, there were so many of them there. It is 24/7 stress. You go to bed stressed. You wake up stressed."
They rose each morning in darkness and were on the road to Dublin by 6am. Their sleep was fitful. Ruth was very sick. When she was in the witness box, Ruth described with understatement how sick she was. She had pain in her pelvic area, pain in her hip. She had a "tugging" feeling in her stomach. Sometimes the pain "hits you so hard". The lowest moment for Paul was watching Ruth being cross-examined, "knowing how sick she was".
An expert witness told the High Court that had her smear tests been correctly read, the risk of cancer developing would have been less than 5pc.
When Paul looks back on his time with Ruth, he likes to remember the ordinary everyday wonder of their lives. They went to comedy gigs in Dublin, and to see Bruce Springsteen, wherever and whenever he played in Ireland. There were trips to Thomond Park, "the coldest place on the planet". Libby was persuaded along on the promise of treats. "And we'd get there and she'd want to go home after 10 minutes. But then we'd all stay, and we'd enjoy the match, and we'd walk up the road after. It was brilliant."
There was an unforgettable trip to Disneyland in Paris a few years ago with Libby, when it was cold and rained a bit but no one moaned. Their last outing was last September when RTE organised tickets for the sold-out Arianna Grande gig in Dublin.
Ruth's next goal was to stay alive for Libby's Holy Communion on April 12.
"We had the dress bought, we were going, we were doing it," said Paul. Ruth had asked her doctors about her chances. "She had been told that it might not happen, that she might not make it to April," said Paul.
"April came and then Covid-19 came. So there went the Communion. And then just a week or so ago we got the new date for September 12, so she was focused on that - we have another day. She always set another goal and another goal, to push her that bit further down the line, to keep her going," said Paul.
Ruth was in "excruciating" pain towards the end of her life. A week ago last Friday, they both realised that the end was near.
"Ruth always wanted to be at home, no matter what. She had been in Milford hospice three or four times and she always made it out. She'd say, 'I'm off, I'm going' and they'd all be delighted for her," said Paul. Ruth's pain worsened. "Ruth looked at me and she said Paul, I need to go to Milford. I knew. I knew she was in excruciating pain when she said that."
As Paul put it, Ruth began to drift away from them later that day. She fell into a sleep from which she never really woke. Paul slept beside her on a chair at the hospice. He talked all the time, believing she could hear him. She responded only once, when Libby was brought in to see her.
"When Libby went to speak to Ruth, it was like she was trying to speak back to her, it was kind of like a groan, you know. But she did it for nobody else, only Libby," he said. Ruth died surrounded by her loved ones.
As he shouldered Ruth's wicker coffin to Mary Magdalene Church in Monaleen for her funeral last Wednesday, his heart lifted as he passed the guard of honour performed by women, who like Ruth, had suffered as a result of screening failures, members of the 221 Plus support group.
Ruth would have been "bursting" with pride.
"It was a magnificent gesture and I will never forget it. I wish she'd seen all this kind of stuff when she was alive. That's the one thing. What people thought of her, what people have done for her. Her dad used to call her his angel when she was a child, that she was his angel sent down from heaven for him. I don't say it lightly, but she was a lady, beautiful inside and out. And I love her with all my heart."
Ruth's ashes were returned to her family last Thursday. Libby took them to her bedroom. "She made a little shrine to her. She had her cushion that says 'Mrs is always right', a crystal butterfly," he said. "She talks to her at night. It's heartbreaking." But it also makes Paul feel as though "she could still be still at home with us".
He plans on commissioning a piece of jewellery for Libby that will help her remember her: "No matter where we go, any game we go to, any cinema we go to, anywhere, Ruth will go with us everywhere."