Sunday 19 November 2017

Obituary: Renee ffrench-O'Carroll

Genteel socialite was projected into the public domain by a messy court dispute with her son, writes Liam Collins

Renee Ffrench O Carroll
Renee Ffrench O Carroll
Arthur Ffrench O Carroll
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Renee ffrench-O'Carroll, the daughter of a French diplomat, who has died aged 92, was for many years the only remaining owner/occupier of a Georgian house on Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin.

Renee Marie de Laforcade arrived in Ireland in 1940 at the age of 17 to join her father Xavier, the French 'Minister' (as foreign ambassadors were known in Free State Ireland) the representative of the Vichy government, and her mother Angele, then living in the grand French embassy residence on Ailesbury Road.

Renee's parents were obviously well connected as they also managed to bring a considerable fortune with them to neutral Ireland.

Vivacious and outgoing, the young Renee met Michael ffrench-O'Carroll and the debonair 24-year-old Irish doctor and the beautiful 21-year-old Frenchwoman were married in Donnybrook Church on December 7, 1944.

Renee's parents gave the young couple a wedding present of a four-storey, over-basement house at No 55 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, where she continued to live until shortly before her death.

The young Dr Michael ffrench-O'Carroll was friendly with another opinionated young doctor, Noel Browne, and along with Sean McBride established the Clann na Poblachta political party in 1947. After falling out with McBride, ffrench-O'Carroll was elected to the Dail in 1951 as an independent TD for South West Dublin. He later joined Fianna Fail but failed to get elected on two subsequent occasions and sat in the Seanad until 1957.

The couple had five children. However, their marriage broke up and Michael ffrench O'Carroll pursued post- graduate studies in the University of Michigan, before returning to work in Britain and later as the director of alcohol and drug addiction in a centre from Cork from 1980 to 1992. He died in 2007.

According to Mrs ffrench O'Carroll's lawyer, the marriage break-up was particularly difficult as she was "a lady in a certain position of society - we have forgotten some of these sensitivities".

In the years that followed, she managed the family investments and property portfolio in a quiet unassuming manner from her home in Fitzwilliam Square, seeing it change from an area populated by doctors and artists (such as Jack B Yeats) to a commercial district mainly occupied by offices. She would probably have continued her life of genteel obscurity were it not for a 'family feud' with her son, Arthur ffrench-O'Carroll, a well-known figure in Dublin social-circles, which revolved around ownership of a mews at the back of the house, now occupied by the restaurant Diep Le Shaker.

The case began in 1998 and lasted for six years, despite strenuous efforts by advisors to facilitate a settlement.

Renee ffrench-O'Carroll insisted she never intended to sign the lease which gave the youngest of her five children title to the mews.

Arthur ffrench-O'Carroll, who once managed his mother's quite considerable property portfolio, maintained that she had agreed to give it to him as his inheritance.

Renee ffrench-O'Carroll was "a highly intelligent and astute businesswoman" and "wily, adroit and adamant" in her views, said Judge Thomas Smyth, summing up the dispute.

She was, he said, a strong-willed woman who "wanted her way and she got it". But the judge found that by signing over the lease, Renee ffrench-O'Carroll was giving her son Arthur his inheritance while she was still alive.

Finding in the son's favour, he said Renee ffrench-O'Carroll had dismissed her son in "the most imperious tones" while, in contrast, Arthur's affection for his mother "was not contrived".

After the court case, I called to the house in Fitzwilliam Square to seek an interview. Elegant as ever, she opened the green door of No 55 and during our doorstep conversation she conceded that she had led a most interesting life. "You could write a book about it," she said, and with a charming smile she firmly closed the front door.

The funeral Mass for Renee ffrench-O'Carroll, who died on December 28, took place in Donnybrook Church where she was married in 1944. She had five children: Paul, Marie Claire, Donal, Arthur and the late Suzanne.

Sunday Independent

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