Sunday 21 January 2018

Noonan first revealed Alzheimer's heartbreak in tearful TV interview

Michael Noonan and his wife Florence, pictured in his Limerick constituency in 2002
Michael Noonan and his wife Florence, pictured in his Limerick constituency in 2002

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

IT had been unknown to the wider public that Michael Noonan's wife Florence suffered from Alzheimer's disease until the former Fine Gael leader gave a heart-breaking television interview almost two years ago.

The man with the political persona of a 'bruiser' wept as he described his wife's condition to Pat Kenny on RTE's 'Frontline' in May 2010. Mr Noonan went public after a 'Prime Time' expose on the care of people suffering from Alzheimer's.

At that stage, Florence -- known as Flor -- was in full-time care and recognised her husband only the odd time.

"Maybe once a month she'd smile at you," he said. "Whether she's happy or not, it's hard to say."

A teacher -- like her husband -- Florence Knightley, from Castlemaine in Co Kerry, married Michael Noonan in 1969 and the pair had five children; Tim, John, Michael, Orla and Deirdre.

Mrs Noonan played a huge part in her husband's political career, canvassed for him around Limerick and was hugely popular in her own right. She also taught in St Paul's school in the Dooradoyle area of the city.

Her mother died from Alzheimer's and she feared that she would inherit it.


The onset of the illness became apparent when she was just 54, but during his 'Frontline' interview, Mr Noonan recalled the support she gave him while he was Fine Gael leader during the 2002 election.

"When I was out around the country doing the leader things, she was working at home and out canvassing every night," he said.

But her condition worsened and Mr Noonan said he would never forget the loneliness and enormous responsibility of caring for his wife when he came home from the Dail at the weekends.

Home help took over in the week, before Mrs Noonan entered full-time care.

In his interview, Mr Noonan painted the image of a family struggling to cope as the disease gradually tightened its grip on someone whom they loved dearly.

"You'd say, 'Would you like a cup of tea?' You'd go out into the kitchen and you'd come back in with the cup of tea and she'd be gone.

"So you'd search the house but she's gone. And so you'd go out but you can't find her.

"When you'd catch up with her, she could be agitated and it would be impossible at times to get her into a car."

She began to suffer from seizures, as Mr Noonan recalled.

"The first morning I was showering her. . . she fell and I couldn't catch her and she was lying on the floor."

He added: "She was unconscious for about three-quarters of an hour while we were waiting for an ambulance to come.

"That happened three times over a two-month period. We just couldn't carry on."

Irish Independent

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