Friday 14 December 2018

'Thanks for being a wonderful force for good' - priest shares chapters of unfinished book by Emma Mhic Mhathúna at funeral

  • The 37-year-old died on Sunday from cervical cancer
  • Funeral cortege was due to pause outside Leinster House
  • Priest recalls the young mother's 'ferocious love' for her children
The funeral mass for Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The funeral cortege of Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, arrives at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin for her funeral mass. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A spontaneous round of applause broke out as the remains of Emma Mhic Mhathúna were brought up the steps of the Pro Cathedral.

Celebrant Fr Paddy Moran revealed to the congregation that the brave victim of the CervicalCheck scandal had been writing a children’s book and shared with them the opening two chapters of her unfinished story.

He spoke of her great courage, strength and humour in facing her illness and said she has held onto life for as long as she could.

She had sent texts to friends, saying: “I had radiation today but am free tomorrow. Let’s make plans.”

To another, she had written from her hospital bed: “I have free reflexology, free aromatherapy massage, a free twin room and free food. Do you want to come up and stay?”

For Moran said that when he had visited Emma at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, he had been struck by “her sense of calm and her ferocious love for her children.”

Dept of Health, Baggot St. Dublin. Funeral cortege of Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Photo: Douglas O’Connor.
Dept of Health, Baggot St. Dublin. Funeral cortege of Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Photo: Douglas O’Connor.
Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical cancer screening controversy in Ireland, arrives for the funeral mass for Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Mourners carry floral tributes as they arrive for the funeral mass for Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wiree
Irish President Michael D Higgins arrives for the funeral mass for Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Emma Mhic Mhathúna’s death cannot be in vain

When he had asked how she was doing, her reply was very striking, he said.

“Her illness, she said, she did not see as part of God’s plan, but rather as the result of human error,” said Fr Moran.

“She said the organizations who made errors had apologized and that those letters of apology meant a huge amount to her. She didn’t want those letters for herself but for her children.”

Over a thousand people filled the Pro Cathedral in Dublin’s Marlborough street for her funeral.

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

Mourners were led by President Michael D Higgins who arrived with his wife Sabina.

The Taoiseach was represented by his ADC Caroline Burke.

Vicky Phelan, whose High Court case had broken open the CervicalCheck scandal was present with her solicitor, Cian O’Carroll, who also represents victim Ruth Morrissey.

Emma’s remains later stopped outside the Department of Health and the Dáil following the funeral mass.

The coffin of Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, is carried into St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin for her funeral mass. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The coffin of Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most high-profile victims of Ireland's cervical smear test controversy, is carried into St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin for her funeral mass. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
EmmaGov.jpg
The remains of Emma Mhic Mhathúna pass by Government Buildings after her funeral mass ast the Pro Cathedral in Dublin. Pic Steve Humphreys

Fr Moran said that Emma had spoken with no malice, anger or bitterness of the official apologies she had received.

Instead, she had been just a mother thinking first and foremost of her children.”

They had talked about her illness, which she spoke of in a very calm manner.

The priest had told Emma that he thought her extraordinarily brave.

“I admit that what I said next I didn’t phrase so well. I said if I was very ill I would like to just go to quiet place and end my days there,” Fr Moran said.

“She perked up and looked at me and said “You mean you would just give up”.

“She looked at me like I had introduced some foul concept into the conversation, because giving up were not words in her vocabulary,” he added.

“On the back foot, I said that wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was I hoped that my faith would enable me to live my illness and my death.”

“Emma looked at me and she gave me the look, the Emma look that says ‘I hear what you are saying but I am not sure you are right, in fact I’m fairly sure you’re wrong but we won’t fall out over it’,” he said.

After reading the chapters of her book which gave an account of an idyllic children’s summer in Kerry, the church broke out in applause.

To Emma, he expressed thanks for being such a powerful force of nature and a wonderful force for good.

“Thank you for touching the hearts of so many people when they heard you telling your story,” he said.

“Thank you for making us realise our own capacity for compassion and empathy.”

He thanked her for her courage and strength, for showing us the tenderness and beauty of a mother’s love.

“Thank you for showing us that life, in all its fragility and vulnerability, is still a most wonderful gift and we should live it the best we can.”

“Thank you for the hope you expressed that people are good and have a capacity to learn from mistakes and that what happened to you should not happen to any other woman in our land,” he added.

After the mass, Emma’s daughter Natasha (16) read aloud a message from Ryan Tubridy.

"Once in a while in the life of a chat show host you have the privilege of meeting someone so striking, so impressive and so memorable that their thoughts, words and actions stay with you long after the first conversation,” he said, adding that Emma had been one of those people.

“It feels peculiar writing about someone so present and so vivacious in the past tense.  Emma should not be part of the past because she feels so present and yet it’s highly likely that she will be remembered forever in the future,” he said.

“She’ll be remembered as a mother, a campaigner, a fighter and a woman in a ball gown taking on the people who needed to be challenged and refusing to back down. “Survivors don’t take nonsense lying down, they pick themselves up and speak truth to power,” he had written.

“Emma spoke that truth and while we will all miss the woman we knew, her truth survives to fight another day."

The 37-year-old mother-of-five passed away on Sunday morning from cervical cancer, she was diagnosed in 2016 after receiving two incorrect smear test results.

She was one of 221 women with cervical cancer found to have received incorrect results during a clinical audit of past test results by the CervicalCheck screening programme.

After the mass, Emma’s daughter Natasha (16) read aloud a message from Ryan Tubridy.

"Once in a while in the life of a chat show host you have the privilege of meeting someone so striking, so impressive and so memorable that their thoughts, words and actions stay with you long after the first conversation,” he said, adding that Emma had been one of those people.

“It feels peculiar writing about someone so present and so vivacious in the past tense.  Emma should not be part of the past because she feels so present and yet it’s highly likely that she will be remembered forever in the future,” he said.

“She’ll be remembered as a mother, a campaigner, a fighter and a woman in a ball gown taking on the people who needed to be challenged and refusing to back down. “Survivors don’t take nonsense lying down, they pick themselves up and speak truth to power,” he had written.

“Emma spoke that truth and while we will all miss the woman we knew, her truth survives to fight another day."

Her funeral cortège paused outside Leinster House, Government Buildings and the Department of Health in Dublin today as a gesture of solidarity with Irish women affected by the CervicalCheck cancer scandal.

It also passed Áras an Uachtaráin as a mark of personal appreciation for President Michael D Higgins, who had visited her in Kerry during the summer.

The first two chapters of the book were as follows:

Chapter 1

School bell goes. Summer’s finally here. We have a super summer planned. Fishing, football, swimming, sheep chasing, exploring and winding the locals up awaits. Out the door, school bags on the shoulder, jumpers round the waist, down Muireach hill. A car pulls up.  Americans looking for directions. That happens a lot down here. We send them the wrong way for the craic. Nothing beats a bit of mischief. Straight home, eat mam’s sandwiches, throw uniform in the back of the wardrobe. Summer clothes on, biscuits into the pockets, back out the door head down the pier. No one else down here yet, left the brother at home he has to clean the dishes. Mam not happy with him. He used her good lipstick on his art project. The beach is full of tourists. I am asked to take a picture of a German couple. I take a picture they give me a euro to buy myself an ice cream. Skip back up the shop, get a loop the loop see my brother coming out. He’s still wearing Mams apron. We head up to Ballydavid Head. We have a base there. It’s an old lookout tower. The lads are meeting us there.

Chapter two                                                (THE TOWER)

Mario takes off the apron. We use it as a flag to let the lads know were here. Mam will be going mad, but hey that’s boys for you. The Tower is old grey brick it faces the other side of the bay. No windows. 15ft tall 8ft wide. We can see all around horse-shoe bay. That’s not the real name of course, we made it up. Line of white horses going by on the Ballyferriter side. Clip clop, Clip clop that’s all we will here for the next three months. The fishing boats are out. Most of the Dads are fishermen here. It’s our bread and butter to survival. Mario manages to take a biscuit from my pocket. I give him a dead arm. He grabs the back of my knees and gets me to the ground. Damn, his rugby skills paying off, he takes another biscuit then runs off. I see the lads. Thomas, Aaron, Aodhna, Pearce, Michael, Donal, Aidan, Josh. Yes, here we go. “Well Seamus, anything stirring across the Bay” shouts Aaron. No, just the usual lads, did you bring the tent”. First night of school holidays we always camp on Bally David Head. Everyone pours outs what’s in their bags. Rope, crisps, binoculars, bars, plasters.....Hang on lads who the heck brought plasters. “Sorry lads” says Donal “It’s my Mam, she made me in case any of us get hurt”. Right, we understand. Mammy’s in Ireland think of everything. I forgot my school lunch one day and my Mam made the post man bring it down to me. They can be so embarrassing at times. So over protective, then flying off the handle the next”.

Speaking of Emma's decision to pass Leinster House and Government buildings, her family said in a statement yesterday: "The purpose of this route is not to protest. It is a final and departing effort to encourage those within to hold a mirror up to the organisations and agencies that they preside over. Moreover, it is a request to those organisations and agencies to commit to ensure that Emma's tragic situation will never happen to another Irish mother or woman again.

"Whilst Emma was at odds with institutions and the agencies, her decision to pass by them should not be interpreted as a personal criticism of any one individual but rather the institutions within," they added.

More to follow

 

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