‘She just can’t be gone.’ Tributes to ‘warrior’ Emma Hannigan

‘Emma was the epitome of strength, love and generosity, beyond anything I have known’

 Emma Hannigan at home in Bray, Co Wicklow in 2010. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Emma Hannigan at home in Bray, Co Wicklow in 2010. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Heartfelt tributes have been paid by family, friends and fellow writers to the bestselling author Emma Hannigan, who died on Saturday in Blackrock Clinic, Dublin, after an 11-year battle with breast cancer. She was 45, and is survived by her husband Cian, children Sacha and Kim, parents Philip and Denise, brother Timmy and sister-in-law Hilary.

Cian posted this tribute to his wife on her Facebook page.

“Today, my Emma found peace.
She bravely fought a battle against a foe with no mercy.
Emma was the epitome of strength, love and generosity, beyond anything I have ever known. She loved her family, loved her friends, and she left a trail of glitter and joy throughout her life… with of course added tinsel at Christmas.
She was my wife and soul mate
Mother of my beautiful children
A friend to many and an inspiration to thousands
A loving daughter
Devoted mother
Best selling Author
Public speaker
And Shopaholic ……
She was my guiding star and my hug to say everything would be ok.
But mostly she was just my Emma, and I would need her wonderful gift with words to tell you just how much I will miss her.”

Her agent Sheila Crowley said: “When I first met Emma eight years ago, I was struck by how vulnerable and fragile she looked, having just finished one of her many courses of chemotherapy. She was with her father Philip, who is her business manager, and I very soon discovered how strong Emma was throughout her life. Her determination to fight everything that was thrown at her is well documented and even in private conversations with me, she never complained.

“What saddens me most is we are just cracking the UK market for Emma’s books. She and I wanted her stories to be #1 throughout the world and her indomitable spirit will urge us on in this mission. Her wonderful memoir, Talk to the Headscarf (updated last summer to All to Live For), as well as her many novels will keep her vital memory alive for many years to come. The memoir was something I suggested she wrote, and it is the most wonderful source of information for anyone diagnosed with cancer. I am delighted both it and her new novel, Letters to my Daughters, are in the bestseller list.”

Her publishers Hachette Books Ireland and Headline issued this statement:

“It is with deep sadness that we learn that our beloved author and friend Emma Hannigan has passed away. Our thoughts are with her family at this sad time.

“We had the immense pleasure and privilege of working with Emma through these past years, publishing both her fiction and non-fiction, and her courage, her generosity of spirit, and her love enveloped us all.

“Emma’s writing carried her through tough times. It allowed her an escape and, in turn, she created vibrant, colourful worlds to which her readers could escape – and her talent, imagination, her unique warmth and humour is evident on each and every page of her novels. Emma loved every aspect of being an author: from meeting booksellers and baking treats for them on signing tours, to the friendships she had with fellow authors, to creating brilliantly colourful stories and characters and, of course, she loved her readers. She would often share positive emails with us ‘her team’ because that was Emma: selfless and always wishing to share her success and happiness. Emma Hannigan will be greatly missed for her stories, for her voice as an author, and as a friend.”

Authors and friends added their tributes:

Ciara Geraghty
“Cancer is not my favourite thing – I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend,” wrote Emma Hannigan in her memoir, Talk to the Headscarf. A wonderful teller of tales, this line demonstrates Emma’s great capacity for humour, a capacity that never diminished throughout her daunting and lengthy battle with cancer. Emma always said that she would never let cancer define her and, right up to the end, it never did. She remained graceful under fire.

And she looked graceful. So petite and stylish, an Irish, blond Audrey Hepburn. But then she’d start talking or writing and you’d see it immediately; her strength, her resilience, her courage, her love of her family, her friends, her life. It is with such sadness that we discover this life is now at an end. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of her loss for her family but for us, the women writers of Ireland who she championed with such kindness and generosity, the world today seems a duller, lesser place with Emma no longer in it.

Sinead Moriarty
I first met Emma 13 years ago and liked her immediately. She was warm, funny and smart. Over the years we did many writing events together and kept in touch on a regular basis. She was someone I admired immensely. Despite the relentless barrage of cancer battering her body, she never allowed it dampen her incredible spirit. I never once heard her complain and her capacity for empathy was vast. Some people walk through life, Emma danced, twirled and jumped through it. She has left deep footprints in the sand. Her children will always walk 10 feet tall because they stand on the shoulders of a giant of love, life and literature.

Carmel Harrington
I was a fan of Emma’s long before I met her at the TV3 studios. I was more than a little star-struck when she walked into the green room. She was smaller than I envisioned. Like a glittering, beautiful fairy. Literally. She liked her sequins. The second thing I noticed was her smile. Bright, warm, sincere. Then my eyes fell on the tray of brownies she clasped. Baked by herself and I soon learned that these were trademark Emma. Always with arms full of gifts. I didn’t say much to her that first day, but the next time we shared a panel, we chatted some more as we had our makeup done. And I realised that we had a lot in common. Emma was one of those people who can make a room brighter when they enter. She was funny and kind. Just all round lovely. I have so much respect for her as an author, but the way she fought breast cancer, campaigning until the end, will stay with me always.

A glittering, beautiful warrior to the end. Fiercely wise too. I’m avoiding those drains, Emma. Promise.

Claudia Carroll
Emma can’t be gone. She just can’t be. I think she was the most positive and buoyant and life-affirming person I ever had the privilege to meet. My heart goes out to her family to everyone who loved her – and believe me, everyone loved Emma. I like to think that’s she’s up above now, sharing a posthumous gin and tonic with Maeve Binchy and Anita Notaro, three greats together, happy and at peace.

Claire Allan
It’s very hard to sum up in a few words what Emma meant to me. Not only was she an incredibly talented author, with a knack for pulling at the heartstrings of her readers, she was also an incredible friend and colleague to so many of the writing community.

We met almost nine years ago, when we both shared the same publisher.

She was one of the most generous, loving, wickedly funny people I ever had the good fortune to know and she radiated the love and light she often talked about – even when she was enduring so much herself. You never left a conversation with Emma feeling anything but uplifted.

I will miss her incredibly and always.

Sheila O’Flanagan
The last time I spoke to Emma Hannigan was at an author event. Knowing that she’d recently had treatment for her cancer, I asked how she was. Her reply was ‘all good considering’. I wished her well and then we turned our discussion to the subject at hand - writing. She was editing her latest novel, I was just starting mine. We talked about characters and plot and how sometimes everything went so well and others it was like pulling teeth. Her illness may have spurred Emma to write, but it never defined her. To me, and to many of the other Irish authors, she was simply another member of our tribe. And although she was a tireless campaigner for the cause of breast cancer, it will always be as a writer, bringing her characters and her stories so vividly to life, that I will remember her.


Emma Hannigan’s funeral service rakes place in Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church, Foxrock, Dublin 18, on Wednesday, March 7th, at 11.30am, followed by burial in Shanganagh Cemetery, Shankill. Family flowers only. Please donate to Breast Cancer Ireland. Text CURE to 50300.

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