Writer and much-loved member of Irish community in Paris

Sat, Jul 18, 2009, 01:00

Kathleen Bernard: THE DEATH has occurred of Kathleen Bernard, née Fitzpatrick, who for the last 64 years was a vibrant and much-loved member of the Irish community in Paris.

Known to all as Kitty, she was born in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, but grew up in a Georgian house on Eden Terrace in Limerick and attended the Laurel Hill convent school.

Fr David Bracken, the chaplain of the Irish College in Paris, recalls that even in old age, one of his parishoners called Kitty Bernard "the Laurel Hill girl".

In the 1930s, before enrolling at UCD, she studied for a year at La Chassotte convent in Switzerland. Kitty Fitzpatrick felt different from her Irish friends when she returned, according to her daughter Caitríona.

"About six months ago, she said, 'I wonder why my father sent me to that school'. It was the origin of her exile. She loved France and my father, but she missed Ireland terribly. She was very proud to be Irish."

Kitty Fitzpatrick received a French government scholarship in 1945. She and three other young Irish women lived for a year at the international foyer at 95 Boulevard Saint Michel in the Latin quarter. Two would marry Frenchmen and remain in France.

The third, Máire Mhac an tSaoí, married the diplomat and journalist Conor Cruise O'Brien, and became godmother to the Bernards' third child, Caitríona. In her autobiography, The Same Age as the State, Cruise O'Brien calls Kitty Fitzpatrick "the Joyce scholar".

Bernard began a thesis in comparative literature on James Joyce, but could not find a professor at the Sorbonne sufficiently knowledgeable to supervise her work. The real reason she never completed her doctorate, Caitríona Bernard suggests, was that "she loved life too much. She embodied what I know of Ireland - love of words, drink, joking, theatre . . ."

"She was was outspoken and loved communicating with people," said Donough O'Brien, Bernard's nephew, who had just purchased Declan Kiberd's new book on James Joyce as a gift for her, when she died.

"She could be indiscreet, which could cause a bit of upset. She had a way of looking a person straight in the eyes and saying, 'Now tell me all about yourself', and really expecting to get a lot of information."

In her early years in Paris, Kitty Fitzpatrick wrote articles on culture for The Irish Times. She was hired by the European Organisation for Economic Co-operation, which later became the OECD, where she met Philippe Bernard, an economist five years her junior who had been decorated with the Croix de Guerre after being wounded fighting the Germans in Alsace. More recently, Bernard received the Légion d'Honneur for his role in the Resistance.

Kitty and Philippe Bernard were inseparable for the last 57 years; one never saw one without the other. "He stayed in love with her until the very end," their daughter Caitríona said. "He realised what an extraordinary, exceptional woman she was."

The couple married in 1951 and had four children. Their eldest daughter Anne trained as an architect, married the philosophy professor Richard Kearney and now teaches at Boston College.

Frédéric, their second child, is a specialist on Heidegger and teaches philosophy in Frankfurt. Caitríona, the third, is a history and geography teacher and Emmanuel, the youngest, is an environmental activist.

Bernard was a feminist and a Catholic intellectual who criticised the Irish Church, particularly during the time of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

She wrote many poems, some of which were published by Máire Cruise O'Brien in Poetry Ireland. Three of her poems figure in the 1998 Co Limerick anthology. She wrote a novel about her childhood in Limerick, which was never published. "If there was something sad in her life, it was her feeling that there was a publishing bias against women," said the poet Paul Durcan, who was a close friend.

For the 25 years that the Bernard family inhabited a spacious, book-lined apartment near the Trocadéro, Kitty Bernard took in numerous Irish visitors, many of them artists and writers, including Kate O'Brien, who was a distant relative through marriage, the painter Peter Pearson and Durcan.

"Generosity was absolutely what defined her," said Durcan, "along with being a Limerick girl. Her generosity was beyond belief."

A funeral Mass will be held in the chapel of the Irish College in Paris on Monday, July 20th, at 11.15am.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick Bernard: born November 30th, 1917; died July 14th, 2009.