Saturday 25 May 2019

'She was fearless' - Emma Mhic Mhathúna's remains brought back to her 'dream home' as friends pay tribute

Emma Mhic Mhathuna Photo: Domnick Walsh
Emma Mhic Mhathuna Photo: Domnick Walsh

Olivia McGill, Ian Begley and Ralph Riegel

THE remains of fearless CervicalCheck campaigner Emma Mhic Mhathúna (37) have been brought back to the west Kerry Gaeltacht house she called her "dream home."

A hearse carrying the mother of five's coffin was escorted from University Hospital Kerry (UHK) by cars carrying family members to her picturesque home at Baile na nGall, overlooking part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

A Garda patrol car also escorted the small cortege as it made its way shortly before 3.30pm past the stunning west Kerry scenery that Ms Mhic Mhathúna loved so much before arriving at her coastal cottage in Baile na nGall, some 20km from Dingle.

Her remains will be kept overnight at the home she specially chose for her five children just 18 months ago.

Private prayers will be staged for her children and family with friends and neighbours also attending.

Her coffin will then be brought tomorrow to Seipeal na Carraige for 11am Requiem Mass.

The Coffin of the late Emma Mhic Mhathuna arrived at her home today
Photo By Domnick Walsh
The Coffin of the late Emma Mhic Mhathuna arrived at her home today Photo By Domnick Walsh

Following Requiem Mass, her remains will be brought to Dublin for a second Requiem Mass in the ProCathedral on Wednesday.

In a poignant tribute to the mother of five who campaigned so fearlessly for justice for the women impacted by the CervicalCheck scandal, Baile na nGall locals had the Tricolour flying at half mast in their small community.

Mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathúna (37), who bravely battled cancer after being caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal, died yesterday morning in UHK after a sudden and rapid deterioration in her condition.

Her next-door neighbour Phil Uí Bhrosnacháin paid tribute to her today, speaking about the impact she made in Baile na nGall during the time that she lived there.

Emma Mhic Mhathúna and her children met President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina earlier this year
Emma Mhic Mhathúna and her children met President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina earlier this year

Speaking on An Saol ó Dheas on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltacht, she said: "She was fearless, and she spoke the truth all the time, and do you know I never thought this day would come.

"She had so much energy, I suppose I just didn’t believe it. She was very content here, she used to go up to Dublin, and then when she’d come back here she’d say I’m home now...

"She was a wonderful woman, and she did so much for her children, that’s all she was thinking of .. and she was so funny, we’d always have a laugh. 

"She could be in to us five or six times a day, and I’d be saying to her ‘what is it now Emma’ and she’d start laughing."

Ms Uí Bhrosnacháin also reminisced about the first time that she met Ms Mhic Mhathúna, when she went into the post office where she was working.

"I remember the first day she walked in here, I’ll never forget it. 

Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna are two of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy
Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna are two of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy

"She had the five kids with her, with her blonde hair and an orange jacket, and I thought to myself who is this beautiful woman...

"She told us she was looking for a house, so she put up a sign, and she got a house then next door. That’s my first memory of her," she said.

Vicky Phelan has praised Ms Mhic Mhathúna on her brave fight against cancer and especially in succeeding to win money from her case to provide for her children..

Mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathúna Photo: Don MacMonagle
Mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathúna Photo: Don MacMonagle

Ms Phelan, whose court case brought the scandal to light, said Ms Mhic Mhathúna should be making school lunches and waving her children off to school today.

"My kids have gone out to school this morning," Ms Phelan told Newstalk's Breakfast programme.

"That's what her children should be doing, she should be doing their lunches and giving them a kiss on the head as they go out the door. It’s the small things, they're the things that matter as a mother."

CALM: Emma Mhic Mhathuna at the Laughter Lounge. Picture: Kyran O'Brien
CALM: Emma Mhic Mhathuna at the Laughter Lounge. Picture: Kyran O'Brien

Vicky is going through treatment for cancer herself and while things are good for her at the moment, there is always the danger that it will stop working, she says.

"It’s very hard," Ms Phelan she said.

"That could be my reality in the not too distant future. You want to be there for your children.

"I had my last dose of [the drug I am on] a few days ago. I had the result of my most recent scan last week. Everything is fine, it’s stable. There is no shrinkage, but no new tumours."

She described Ms Mhic Mhathúna's death as "too close to the bone".

"Emma died on Sunday morning. There was another lady who didn’t go public [about her cancer] and she died on Saturday morning. It's too close to the bone for me at the moment.

"I had been working with them to get them on to this drug I’m on but it was too late for them," she continued.

"The brilliant thing about the drug is the quality of life with it. I am living my life as if I haven’t got cancer.

"With chemo or radiation, I couldn’t get out of bed. My son would come back from montessori everyday and ask is mammy still in bed. You just want to do normal things.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna fought very hard to secure the financial future of her children - who range in age from two to 16 years - and received a settlement of €7.5m in June from Quest laboratories and the State after she was given incorrect smear test results.

"She was doing it for her children," said Ms Phelan. "It was all about providing for them. She did whatever it took to get the money to provide for her children when she was gone.

"A fitting legacy for Emma is to get accountability. At the moment the only way we can get it is by improving the screening process we have to make it fit for purpose ... to make it one Emma would be proud of.

"Accountability has not really happened, we need to introduce measures to make that happen."

Ms Mhic Mhathúna was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 having previously received two incorrect smear results.

Tributes poured in from around the country following the news of her death yesterday.

She was praised for the courage and strength that she showed during the course of her devastating illness.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he was "very sad" to hear of her passing.

"Sadness has come across the entire country. We are so devastated to hear about her passing. My thoughts are with her children," he said.

Mr Harris said that Ms Mhic Mhathúna's bravery was "unbelievable" and that he would work tirelessly to improve the cancer-screening programme.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also extended his condolences to the family and friends of Ms Mhic Mhathúna.

He said: "I extend my heartfelt sympathy to Emma's family and friends and especially her children. Emma did us all a huge service with her advocacy for the HPV vaccine.

"I am determined that something positive should come from this tragedy and it is my objective to virtually eliminate cervical cancer in Ireland."

President Michael D Higgins said he was in awe of Ms Mhic Mhathúna's strength.

He said: "When I met her and her children in May, I was greatly struck by her poise and bravery in the midst of what was a very difficult time for her family and friends.

"On behalf of the people of Ireland, I send my condolences to her family, friends, the wider community in west Kerry and to all those who have shared Ms Mhic Mhathúna's journey as she battled the disease."

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer, told Independent.ie that Ms Mhic Mhathúna's children would grow up knowing she loved them more than anything else.

He added: "She made an incredible difference and I know that Emma has left a remarkable legacy that her children will cherish throughout their lives."

Emma Mhic Mhathuna's Funeral Mass will take place on Tuesday at 11am in Seipeal na Carraige, Baile na nGall with removal to St. Mary's Pro Cathereral, Dublin for Funeral Mass on Wednesday at 12.4pm followed by burial in Laraghbryan Cemetery, Maynooth, Co. Kildare.

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