Health worker and political activist who ‘left an impression for life’

Aideen Pittion: August 29th, 1940 - July 2nd, 2014

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Marie Aideen Pittion, who has died after a long illness, was a home-maker, health worker and political activist.

The only daughter of Joseph Francis Kelly and his wife, Elizabeth (née Shanks), she lived with her family at Chamber Street in Dublin’s Liberties. In her early teens the family moved to Kilmacud, and she attended Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green.

She began her career at Harcourt Street Children’s Hospital, in the almoners department. She then worked as a medical secretary at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and finally at the haematology department at St James’s Hospital.

She inherited a strong political interest from her father, a 1916 veteran who served under Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union. He later took part in the War of Independence but avoided becoming embroiled in the Civil War by returning to his previous occupation of merchant seaman. Political awareness Pittion’s political awareness grew when, working in the children’s hospital, she discovered the dire poverty affecting the families of many patients. She took part in the first Aldermaston march, organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in 1958, together with Helen McInerney, daughter of Irish Times political correspondent Michael McInerney.

In 1961 Jean-Paul Pittion, a French academic at Trinity, was much taken by her flaming red hair and long legs, having seen her on the 86A bus. This led to a date at the Coffee Inn, South Anne Street, and, ultimately, marriage in 1963.

In the early 1970s she joined what was then Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, campaigning in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown constituency,

In 1981, the party’s first TD was elected, and by the end of the decade its Dáil representation had risen to six, while the party president, Proinsias De Rossa, also was a member of the European Parliament. However, in 1992, the party split and five of the six TDs left with other members to form Democratic Left. Pittion remained with the Workers’ Party, partly out loyalty to, and affection for, Tomás Mac Giolla. The split angered and saddened her. ‘A giver’ Family friend and Trinity colleague of her husband, Tommy Murtagh, said at the funeral service that Aideen Pittion was not one of life’s takers but a giver. Her passion, instinct and intuition were in contrast to Jean-Paul’s Cartesian detachment, but nevertheless the couple presided over a friendly, lively household which weathered many minor squalls. When someone like her dies, he said, a wall falls.

Shaun McCann, who first met her when the Kelly family moved to Kilmacud, recalled her introducing him to cigarettes, Harp lager, Nabokov and uncensored “foreign” films screened by the Irish Film Society. Describing her as incorrigible, he said that meeting Pittion once left an impression for life. As a doctor, he was her colleague at St James’s Hospital.

She enjoyed classical music, was a very good pianist and liked to travel in France. Her final visit, late last year, was a trip down memory lane that took in Brittany and the Loire Valley. Also last year she was delighted to celebrate the publication of Jean-Paul’s book Le livre à la Renaissance.

She is survived by Jean-Paul, sons François and Étienne, daughter Una, daughters-in- law Laura and Aisling, grandchildren Jean-François, Isabelle and Mathilde.