Sunday 26 May 2019

Reflections on a fearless life as Ann Louise is laid to rest

Katherine Zappone with family and friends at the funeral of her wife, Dr Ann Louise Gilligan, yesterday
Katherine Zappone with family and friends at the funeral of her wife, Dr Ann Louise Gilligan, yesterday
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Six weeks after their first meeting in 1981 "we decided to spend the rest of our lives together", Children's Minister Katherine Zappone told those gathered at the funeral service for her wife Dr Ann Louise Gilligan (61) who died last Wednesday from complications following a brain haemorrhage sustained 87 days before.

"We often said to each other that we hoped to 'be ladies in our eighties'. While I know that was not meant to be, that desire filled every moment of our love for each other," she said at the Humanist ceremony at The Helix Theatre in Dublin City University yesterday.

President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and former Taoisigh Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern were among the large attendance at a ceremony conducted by the couple's friend, Dr Ann F O'Reilly.

In an emotional reflection, the Minister for Children said: "I loved your fearlessness, especially when it was mixed with your great sense of fun," adding that Ann Louise drove a bright red BMW motor scooter for years and only stopped because of blindness after her first haemorrhage.

"The evening after her medical team told Ann Louise that she would not recover, she looked at me and said: 'I am just thinking again about the conversation. Did Joe (Harbison) say that I was going to die?' And I responded, 'Yes Ann Louise'. And then I asked her, 'Are you afraid?' and she said, 'No. I was not afraid before entering the world and I am not afraid to leave it'."

Described as "an educator, philosopher and champion for equality", Dr Ann Louise Gilligan was born on July 27, 1945 into a prosperous family living on Nutley Park, Dublin 4. She went to school in Loreto, Foxrock, and after a year in Paris as an au pair with the O'Rourke family, joined the Loreto order as a nun.

She aspired to a "missionary life" she said later, but ended up teaching theology in St Patrick's teacher training college.

"During the last few days of her illness, when the breath of our conversations were drawn in, we spoke mostly about how blessed we were to have had the gift of such love between us," the minister said.

The couple married in Canada in 2003. When they returned to Ireland they petitioned the Revenue Commissioners to be treated as a "married couple" but the tax authorities were "confused by their situation" and turned them down. They then began a long legal quest that brought them to the forefront of the campaign for legal rights for same-sex couples.

The symbolism of their battle led to the campaign which achieved the Civil Partnership Act of July, 2010 and later the passing of the Same-Sex Referendum of 2015. The couple married in Irish Law in City Hall, Dublin on January 22, 2016.

In the meantime she continued to teach theology and philosophy at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra and Dublin City University.

The couple lived near Brittas in the Dublin Mountains and founded An Cosan, a centre for learning, leadership and enterprise in Jobstown, Tallaght.

Ann Louise Gilligan, who is survived by Katherine Zappone, her sister June Kelly and her brother Arthur Gilligan, was buried in Manor Kilbride cemetery in Dublin yesterday.

Sunday Independent

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