Mary McNeaney O’Rourke obituary: Well Woman founder and reproductive rights advocate

Helped restore right to information and freedom to travel to women of Ireland

Mary McNeaney O’Rourke died at 65, having endured the challenges of MND with characteristic strength, determination and resilience balanced with  warmth, serenity and humour.

Mary McNeaney O’Rourke died at 65, having endured the challenges of MND with characteristic strength, determination and resilience balanced with warmth, serenity and humour.

 

Mary McNeaney O’Rourke

Born: May 20th, 1955

Died: March 16th, 2021

Mary McNeaney, counsellor, former nurse, psychologist and career-long advocate for women’s rights and health, died peacefully on March 16th, 2021, from motor neurone disease (MND).

She was a founder member of the Dublin Well Woman Centre in 1978 where she provided help for women with crisis pregnancies, including pre- and post-abortion counselling, trained new counsellors and, in 1981, introduced fertility counselling and the donor insemination programme.

She was a director of the Well Woman when the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children initiated a High Court action in 1986 resulting in a prohibition against discussing the option of abortion with clients – a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 1988.

McNeaney appeared as part of an Irish delegation – including future president Mary Robinson and current Chief Justice Frank Clarke – before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. As a result of their work, the 1992 decision restored basic rights to information and freedom to travel to the women of Ireland.

In 1991, she had moved her donor insemination programme to the Morehampton Clinic in Donnybrook, Dublin. It was the only service of its type available in the Republic at the time and was set up to cater for the needs of couples who otherwise would have had to travel to Belfast or England for help with male-factor infertility. She worked tirelessly establishing contacts with professionals in England and Northern Ireland to ensure best practice and keep clients and colleagues informed of the latest developments.

McNeaney set up the Irish Fertility Counsellors’ Association, a cross-Border alliance. As chairwoman, she put tremendous energy and skill into promoting the professional profile and specialist nature of fertility counselling and its role in better treatment outcomes as well as post-treatment support, particularly when not successful.

With persistence and tenacity, she effectively lobbied to influence the content of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the general scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017. In between, she completed a psychology degree at the Open University, graduating in May 2016.

Early life

McNeaney was the oldest daughter of Rosaleen (née McParland), from Mullingar and Dermot, a seventh-generation Dubliner, originally from Sandymount. Dermot was dubbed “a fine young sportsman” by the Dublin Evening Mail, winning their Sports Mail prize for junior and intermediate cricketers in 1937. He continued to play for the Railway Union Cricket Club into 1940s and 1950s.

At the time of his death at 58 years in 1974, he was sales manager for JC Walsh & Co – a company specialising in Connemara marble gifts. His wife returned to work as a secretary in FBD insurance in Bluebell, Dublin, to support their two daughters.

McNeaney attended Notre Dame des Missions in Churchtown, completing her Leaving Cert, in 1973. She was a student nurse in the Royal City of Dublin Hospital, Baggot Street, from 1974 to 1977. School friends describe her as a bright daydreamer who nonetheless handled exams with ease. Her nursing colleagues recall her laughter ringing out through the halls and wards. She loved sports including cricket – a passion inherited from her father. Later, she enjoyed horse racing and was an active member of the Castle Golf Club in Rathfarnham.

She lived a full and active life despite coping with a debilitating kidney condition – renal colic/pylenephritis – which left her vulnerable to repeated infection and hospital admissions.

McNeaney was diagnosed with MND on August 1st, 2019. With her background, she was well aware of what that diagnosis entailed, although, in her case, it progressed with relentless speed. She died at 65 years, having endured the challenges of MND with characteristic strength, determination and resilience balanced with the warmth, serenity and humour which marked the many accomplishments throughout her life. She continued playing bridge well into 2020.

Mary McNeaney O’Rourke is survived by her husband Michael, whom she married in January 1985, son Daniel, daughter Lorna, her sister Joan, niece Jenny, nephew Chris, sister-in-law Marie, brothers-in-law Frank and Seán and their families.