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Monday 19 February 2018

Tributes to 'special' lady who nearly became our first female president

Shane Hickey

SHE was the woman who very nearly became the first female president of Ireland.

Senior political figures from across the party divide yesterday paid a final tribute to Rita Childers, widow of the fourth president of Ireland, Erskine, and the mother of Labour Party MEP Nessa Childers.

Mrs Childers, who died at the weekend aged 95, assumed a prominent role during her husband's presidency. Following his death, she was the agreed candidate to succeed him until the deal fell through.

At her mother's funeral Mass in south Dublin, Nessa Childers gave a warm appreciation of a "special and unusual" woman who had a life and personality quite different to those of her husband.

The Labour MEP described how her mother had a diplomatic career during the Second World War, when it was unusual for women.

It was then that she was introduced to Erskine Childers --at that time a senior Fianna Fail politician -- by one of her colleagues.

"I would like to believe they are reunited somewhere at last," Ms Childers told the congregation of about 100 people in the Church of the Miraculous Medal in Clonskeagh.


She said her mother always realised that politics was "not for the faint-hearted" and was very protective of family life.

Mrs Childers became a well-known figure around the country during her husband's tenure as president, which lasted just 18 months until his death in 1974. He was 68.

A plan to make her the only nominee for the position of president fell apart in farcical circumstances when the proposal was inadvertently revealed to the public.

Mr Childers was ultimately replaced by Cearbhail O Dalaigh.

Nessa said her mother had a good sense of fashion and knew exactly what looked well.

"This is why I am not wearing black today," she said.

Her mother allowed both her and her foster sister, Marie Duncan, to "fly away" to where they are now, she added.

Among those who attended the funeral were Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, TDs Ruairi Quinn, Emmet Stagg and Liz McManus and MEPs Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, Alan Kelly and Liam Aylward.

The Taoiseach was represented by Cmdt Michael Treacy and Cmdt Michael Walsh was in attendance for the President.

Also in attendance was former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, Senator Ivana Bacik and Judge Peter Smithwick.

Mrs Childers died following a short illness at Carysfort nursing home in Glenageary. She was the second wife of Mr Childers. His youngest child from his first marriage, Carainn Childers, was in attendance.

The wedding of Erskine Childers to Rita in 1952 attracted controversy.

As Rita Childers was a Catholic and he was a Protestant, the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, tried to discourage her from entering into the marriage.

Irish Independent

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