Monday 25 March 2019

Anti-abortion campaigner was 'heartbroken by problems in society', funeral is told

Nora Bennis died at the age of 78. She was a prominent anti-abortion and family values activist from Limerick. Picture:Press 22
Nora Bennis died at the age of 78. She was a prominent anti-abortion and family values activist from Limerick. Picture:Press 22

David Raleigh

The late founder of the Solidarity Movement, Nora Bennis, was a loud voice against abortion and divorce, as well as promoting Catholic and family values. However, her family revealed at her funeral mass that she died “heartbroken by the problems in society”.

The 78-year old mother-of-four who was also well-known in cultural circles, having founded of the Bennis School of Irish Dancing, passed away following a short illness, surrounded by loved ones, in hospital, last Monday.

Mrs Bennis’s funeral, which took place at Our Lady of the Rosary Chruch, Ennis Road, Limerick city, was co-concelebrated by 10 priests, led by Fr Tom Ryan, CC, and Fr Des McAuliffe, PP.

Despite unsuccessfully contesting three Dail elections and one European election, she gained respect from her political peers as a formidable political opponent.

She founded Women Working at Home and the Irish Mothers Working at Home Association in the 1990s following the X case, when the State took an injunction against a 14-year-old pregnant teenager to prevent her having an abortion in the UK.

Following the 1995 divorce referendum she set up the National Party, later renamed the Christian Democrats.

Her strident views on various contentious issues, such as abortion and divorce, made her unpopular in some circles - but she never wavered in spreading her message, her daughter, Muirne, told mourners.

In 1995 she led a 24-hour fast and a day of prayer, in protest at a sex shop operating in the Treaty city, telling reporters she wanted the public to “boycott this filth”.

Nora Bennis’ daughter Muirne who spoke after her mother’s funeral mass in Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Limerick. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22
Nora Bennis’ daughter Muirne who spoke after her mother’s funeral mass in Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Limerick. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

“She was labelled, and sometimes ridiculed, but that wouldn't stop her. Whether people agreed or disagreed with her, all accepted she was a woman of conviction,” her daughter added.

“She cared so much, and was heartbroken by the problems in society and wanted to make this country the safest place possible,” she said.

In a touching tribute, she highlighted her mother’s deep commitment to family values, adding she was a “superhero” to her four children and six grandchildren.

“I read somewhere that life doesn't come with a manual, it comes with a mother. And how true that is. Mum was a guiding light in our lives. Mum truly loved her role as a mother and she loved been able to provide for our basic needs, emotional needs, and very especially, our spiritual needs.”

“It was impossible to argue against her. She always won,” she added.

The rights of the unborn was always foremost in her mind.

Nora Bennis's coffin is carried from Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Limerick following funeral mass. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22
Nora Bennis's coffin is carried from Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Limerick following funeral mass. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

“Mum knew the value of mothering, not just for us, but for every child, and that is why she fought for the recognition of the value of the mother, the value of the family, the value of life.”

Fr Ryan said he was shocked at the sudden loss of his “very prominent parishioner”.

“Death is difficult, there is a finality and separation about it, especially (as) it came relatively soon. A few weeks ago she was right here at mass. She was a woman of great faith and prayer, always staying on after mass to pray,” he said.

Fr Ryan remarked that Ms Bennis had corresponded with Jack Potts, a prisoner on death row in Georgia, USA, who had pleaded guilty to murder.

Potts was “impressed” by Bennis’s support for mothers in the home, “as he felt his problems started” because his mother was absent from the family home when he was a child.

He wrote Bennis a letter from jail, which sowed the seeds of a 20-year correspondence until he died of cancer.

“In the course of their corresponding he became an Irish-speaking, GAA-loving Catholic, before he died of cancer,” added Fr Ryan.

Muirne Bennis concluded, saying her mother was “a steadfast defender of and witness to the faith”, and was deeply committed to the catholic sanctity of marriage.

She and had a “special connection” with her late husband and well known Limerick GAA stalwart Gerry Bennis, she said.

“Dad passed away on the 11th of November, which is mum’s birthday, and mum is being laid to rest beside her beloved Gerry on St Valentine’s Day the patron saint of a happy marriage. What a fitting end to their story in this life,” she told mourners.

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