January 2015

Passing of Dr Maeve Hillery, UCD Alumnus and Wife of President Patrick Hillery

Sun, 11 January 15 00:00

Born in Sheffield in the UK of Irish parents, Maeve Finnegan was sent to school in Taylor’s Hill in Galway at the outbreak of war.  Her family in the UK later recalled how wonderful it was, because of wartime rationing in the UK,  to get the presents of food which she sent them from Ireland. She was the first of her family to go to university when she became one of the few women in Ireland to study medicine in the late 1940s – a decision later described by her granddaughter Sarah as an example of “her adventurous spirit.”

Maeve Finnegan did her pre-clinical medical studies at the National University of Ireland at UCG and her clinical years in a number of UCD hospitals in Dublin. Following graduation she trained as an anaesthetist in hospitals in Dublin and the U.K. While covering anaesthetics for a colleague in the National Children’s Hospital in Harcourt Street in Dublin one weekend, she met Clare GP and Fianna Fail Dail Deputy, Dr. Patrick Hillery who was studying for a diploma in child health.  In 1955, less than 12 months later, they were married.

She returned with her husband to his busy GP practice in Spanish Point in Co. Clare and acted as his locum when he travelled to Dublin on Dail business. Their son John was born in 1957 and a few years later the family moved to Dublin when Dr. Hillery was appointed to Cabinet by the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass.In 1969 they adopted their daughter Vivienne.

During his years as Minister for Industry & Commerce, Minister for Labour, Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Commissioner and President, Maeve Hillery continued to support her husband in his work while maintaining a lifelong interest in medical research, working for a time with the late Dr. Victoria Coffey. She was involved in the Down’s Syndrome Association and the National Association of Mentally Handicapped in Ireland (now called Inclusion Ireland), the Alzheimer’s Association and Caring for Carers.

Maeve Hillery travelled widely both on State business with her husband and in her own right. While she lived in Brussels she loved to drive all over Europe and was enthusiastic about learning new languages. She also spent time in the Irish hospital in Baghdad, where her son’s father-in-law, Limerick consultant paediatrician, Dr. Michael Curtin worked following his retirement.

Following her husband’s election as President in 1976, Dr. Hillery then in her early 50s, and as the President’s wife, returned to medical education, studying for her Diploma in Child Health in UCD and Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin. At this time she worked with Prof.O. Conor Ward, UCD Professor of Paediatrics, with UCD Professor of Surgery, Prof. Barry O’Donnell and Consultant Paediatric Surgeon Mr. Prem Puri.

She had a lifelong interest in the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science and was particularly proud when the School named a lecture theatre after her late husband.

Unusually for her time she was an ambassador for Irish fashion, using leading Irish designers for her State visits abroad. Former President, Mary McAleese described her as “elegant Ireland personified.” She added "I loved to see herself and Paddy representing Ireland. I thought they did it with dignity and serenity."

Fianna Fail Leader, Mr. Micheal Martin said that from Fianna Fail’s perspective, Maeve and Patrick Hillery represented the republican tradition in a very distinguished way.

She is survived by her son, Dr. John Hillery, daughter-in-law Carolyn, grandchildren, Sarah, Patrick, Michael and David and sister Angela. She was predeceased by her daughter Vivienne.