Mary Harding obituary: Caring mother of seven who played key role as a fever nurse

Lives lost to Covid-19: ‘A frontline worker before they invented the phrase’

 Mary Harding loved reading about history and current events, and did The Irish Times crossword daily

Mary Harding loved reading about history and current events, and did The Irish Times crossword daily


This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. Read more at If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email:

Mary Harding

Having cared for patients during Ireland’s polio epidemic as a young nurse in the 1950s, Mary Harding “was a frontline worker before they invented the phrase”, says her daughter Siobhan.

The eldest of nine children, Mary was born on December 27th, 1927, in Eyeries, west Cork to Johnny and Hannah Hanley. She attended her great-aunt Kate’s village school at the early age of two and a half. This, and her parents’ influence, instilled in her a love of learning.

As a teenager, she loved boats and often joined the men to go line fishing off the wild coast of Beara. At the age of 19, she left for Cork city to become a nurse.

St Finbarr’s was one of the top three hospitals in Ireland impacted by polio, and Mary played a key role as a fever nurse. As one of the few not to succumb to the disease, or quit from exhaustion, she became a ward sister in her 20s.

“A colleague from those days once said she never missed a day of work, despite hard times and long shifts,” Siobhan says.

She later cared for TB patients before training as a midwife. She loved all aspects of childbirth, cycling around Cork city to tend to new mothers and their babies at home.

Mary met John Harding at a dance in Cork in 1961. Their marriage lasted over 50 years, resulted in seven children and a move to Dublin to be closer to John’s work in the Irish Lights, as an officer on supply ships to the lighthouses around Ireland.

“She was a wonderful mother, cooking her own brown bread years before it was fashionable, making her own jams, cakes and serving up wonderful meals,” says Siobhan. “She kept a world map in the kitchen where every child did their homework under her supervision.”

Lively debater

Mary was a daily communicant and trained as one of the first Eucharistic ministers in her local parish. Mass was often said in her home by her two Sacred Heart priest brothers, Fr Joe and Fr Brendan, and there was always a Sacred Heart light flickering above the kitchen table. She visited the elderly and sick in Ballybrack and Killiney up to a decade ago.

Mary loved reading about history and current events. She did The Irish Times crossword daily. Her ability to recite poetry never left her, in English and Irish. She was a great hostess, and relished a lively debate.

She travelled often to Mayo, Sligo and Clare to visit her 18 grandchildren. The wild parties on her birthday in her house, two days after Christmas, have made golden memories for her grandchildren.

After John’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mary cared for him at home for 10 years, before he moved to a nursing home. He died in 2012.

Mary entered the Sacred Heart Residence in Raheny in 2016, to be nearer to her youngest daughter Máire. She was loved by staff and was grateful for the care she received, especially from Eileen Lobo, a nurse who took care of her in her final months.

Mary died on May 3rd, 2020 in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin after contracting Covid-19.

Covid-19: Lives Lost