‘Sunday Miscellany’ regular known for love of storytelling

Monica Henchy: April 1st, 1927 - June 24th, 2014

After graduation, Monica Henchy  taught English for a year in Salamanca, which gave her a lifelong love of all things Hispanic.

After graduation, Monica Henchy taught English for a year in Salamanca, which gave her a lifelong love of all things Hispanic.

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 10:48

Monica Henchy, who has died aged 87, was well known through her regular contributions to RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany to a large nationwide audience.

The programme suited her love of storytelling and reminiscence, as over the years she had seen and heard a great deal of Irish cultural life, both its serious and social sides, and loved to talk about it.

The daughter of Dr Maurice Leahy and Margaret Leahy (née Lowry), she was born in London.

Her father, who taught at the Jesuit college of Osterley, was much involved in the Catholic literary revival of the day with GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. A poet himself, he edited a still valuable anthology of contemporary Catholic poetry, published in 1931.

After the advent of Éamon de Valera to government, the family returned to Ireland in 1934. They lived in Aghavannagh Barrack, the former country home of John Redmond. She lost her only sibling, Dominic, at the age of seven, to meningitis.

Times were difficult and, despite his enthusiasm for the new Ireland, her father emigrated to the US just before the second World War.

He taught English and Latin at Fordham University in New York, and was much involved in the post-Vatican II ecumenical movement. He retired to St Augustine, Florida, where Henchy often visited him, and where he died in 1994.

Margaret Leahy had remained in Ireland with the children, going to live in Greystones, in a house that is now the Hungry Monk restaurant. Henchy in later years had the strange pleasure of dining in what had once been her bedroom. Education Monica was educated by the French nuns, the Dames of St Maud (better known as the Congregation of the Holy Child) in their boarding school in Drishane Castle, Millstreet, Co Cork, which was a happy experience for her. Her education gave her a grounding in European culture that she retained.

She later attended St David’s school in Greystones, before going on to University College Dublin, where she studied English and French and did a master’s in English.

After graduation she taught English for a year in Salamanca, which gave her a lifelong love of all things Hispanic. Later she was sometime president of the Dublin Spanish Society. Her article on the Irish College at Salamanca was published in Librarians, poets and scholars: a festschrift for Dónall Ó Luanaigh, which the National Library Society sponsored in 2007. Early career Henchy taught in her old school and then joined the Civil Service, working for a time in the library of the Department of Agriculture.

In 1952 she married Patrick Henchy, then at the National Library and later the director of the Chester Beatty Library.

They had three children, Marie-Thérèse, Deirdre and Monica (who died in a hill-walking accident in 1982).

Theirs was a sociable house, open to visiting scholars such as Richard Ellmann. They also enjoyed poker, and Henchy was a regular winner.

Having to leave the Civil Service on marriage, Henchy qualified as a librarian at UCD. While her children were young, she began working part time in the library of Trinity College Dublin; she was one of those rare people who had connections with both universities.

Fluent in French, Irish, Latin, Spanish and German, she added a diploma in Russian from TCD in her mid-50s, all of which aided her work.

For many years after retirement, Henchy remained active in the Friends of the Library of Trinity College, and was always ready to contribute to discussions after lectures and to enter wholeheartedly into the annual outings.

She was also actively involved with the National Library Society and with the Friends of the National Gallery, among other cultural groups.

With Maura Neylon, Henchy wrote Public Libraries in Ireland (1966). She edited the annual Writings in Irish History with Esther Semple and later Clara Cullen for many years.

Patrick Henchy, who retired from the National Library in 1976, died in 2001.

Positivity Henchy faced widowhood with her characteristic positivity. She swam daily for many years, took art classes, and was much involved with the active retirement group in Donnybrook.

Her grandchildren delighted her and were a source of great joy. She was devoted to them, and often spoke of them and their achievements to her friends.

Henchy’s broadcasts revealed her character. She was an independent thinker. From an early age, she questioned established dogmas, archaic stereotypes and irrational prejudices, but always with tolerance and good humour.

She lived a full, positive life, was an incurable optimist, refused to complain and always saw the bright side of things.

She was an inspiration to all she met, and will be fondly recalled by a very wide circle.

Henchy is survived by her daughters, Marie-Thérèse and Deirdre, and grandchildren Conor, Cliona and Aoife.