Kathleen Reynolds obituary: ‘Best adviser and toughest critic’ of Albert Reynolds

Kathleen’s sunny personality was a huge asset to her husband during his time as taoiseach

Kathleen Reynolds not only ran the family home while her husband was preoccupied with affairs of State, she was a confidant on whom he relied during his tumultuous years in the Taoiseach’s office.

Kathleen Reynolds not only ran the family home while her husband was preoccupied with affairs of State, she was a confidant on whom he relied during his tumultuous years in the Taoiseach’s office.

 

Kathleen Reynolds 
Born: July, 9, 1932 
Died: May 4, 2021

Kathleen Reynolds, who came to public attention as the wife of the late Albert Reynolds during his period at the top in Irish politics, was a steadfast and supportive partner without whom her husband would probably never have had the political impact he did. She not only ran the family home while he was preoccupied with affairs of State, she was a confidant on whom he relied during his tumultuous years in the Taoiseach’s office.

Kathleen’s welcoming and sunny personality was an enormous asset to Albert in his dealings with political colleagues and the media, and was a huge help to him in his Longford constituency. While she was always ready to dispense tea and pleasantries to visitors to their home in Longford or Dublin, she was much more than a background presence in his political life.

'The best decision I ever made in my life was to marry Kathleen,' Albert repeated in numerous interviews during his political life. Their closeness as a couple was a huge political asset to him

Seán Duignan, in a riveting memoir of his time as government press secretary, recalled how Albert relied on her for advice as well as support and took careful account of her criticism on every aspect of government and politics. “Kathleen is Albert’s best adviser and toughest critic,” he noted in his diary.

“The best decision I ever made in my life was to marry Kathleen,” Albert repeated in numerous interviews during his political life. Their closeness as a couple was a huge political asset to him, especially during his period as taoiseach, although each worried about the impact the rough and tumble of politics was having on the other. When Kathleen was laid low for a period by breast cancer, it had a profound impact on Albert and during a low period in the 1992 general election campaign when things were going wrong, he remarked to Duignan: “None of this is worth what it is doing to Kathleen.”

Born Kathleen Coen, in Culfadda, Co Sligo, she first met Albert when she was working in McGettrick’s outfitters in nearby Ballymote. He had got a job as a CIE clerk after leaving school and was posted to Ballymote. He lived at Hunt’s boarding house where Kathleen’s brother Paddy occasionally stayed. When supplies for the drapery store arrived by train he delivered them to the shop and got to know Kathleen. He plucked up the courage to invite her to a dance and they regularly cycled to dance halls in the area.

Kathleen later recalled that one of their first dances was to Paddy Cole playing Stranger on the Shore, so after Albert’s death she contacted him and asked him to play the Acker Bilk classic at the funeral Mass in August 2014. Cole did the same for Kathleen, playing at her funeral Mass in Donnybrook church earlier this month.

Albert left CIÉ in 1961 to join his brother Jim running a chain of ballrooms in the midlands and when the business began to take off the couple were married in a small wedding at Westland Row Church, Dublin, in June, 1962. While he was running a chain of ballrooms and rising through the ranks of Fianna Fáil, Kathleen looked after their growing family at their home at Mount Carmel House in Longford. They later acquired an apartment in Hazeldene off Anglesea Road when Albert was a minister before they moved to Ailesbury Road and later an apartment in Ballsbridge when his political career was over. The couple had seven children and Kathleen was immensely proud of all their achievements.

She gave Albert great moral support during the process that led to the first IRA ceasefire when few doubted that his strategy would pay off

Her joy at Albert’s elevation to the Taoiseach’s office in 1992 was tempered by her own illness which had only been diagnosed a couple of months before he won the office. It was a turbulent period and when the strains in the coalition between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats led to the collapse of the government in November 1992, Kathleen felt the pressure. Albert had a torrid time in the general election that followed and was the butt of much media criticism.

The toll it was taking on her husband caused Kathleen huge anguish. “I just can’t take it. I can’t believe what’s happened in the past few days. I can’t recognise the man I married in what’s being said of him. In three weeks he’s gone from being the best man around to someone none of us recognise,” she told a reporter. This was a rare public intervention and for the most part she enjoyed the hurly-burly of political life.

She gave Albert great moral support during the process that led to the first IRA ceasefire when few doubted that his strategy would pay off. She was also a tremendous support to him when he lost office in controversial circumstances, reassuring him that he done more for peace in Ireland in 2½ years than any other taoiseach of the era. Always dressed immaculately and perpetually good-humoured, she enjoyed joining her husband on State occasions, accompanying him to the races, particularly the Galway Races which they always attended together.

Her own contribution to public life was to raise awareness of breast cancer through the establishment of the International Breast Cancer Foundation of Ireland. A devout Catholic all her life, she had a strong religious faith. “I have always been a believer in the power of prayer,” she once said. She is survived by her seven children Miriam, Philip, Emer, Leonie, Albert jnr, Cathy and Andrea.