Ireland owes ‘debt of gratitude’ to Laura Brennan, funeral hears

Prominent cervical cancer campaigner died in hospital in Limerick last week aged 26


“Selfless giver” and HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan met her final days with “grace, generosity and calmness”, her funeral has heard.

Her brother Fergal Brennan made an emotional tribute to his “powerful, strong, gentle, courageous, kind and beautiful sister – inside and out” at a celebration Mass before a packed congregation at the St Peter & Paul Cathedral in Ennis on Wednesday.

Mr Brennan said that in his sister’s final days, it would have been easy for her to be angry with the hand she was dealt but she faced them with grace, generosity and calmness.

Minister for Health Simon Harris; aide-de-camp of President Michael D Higgins; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; and RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy were among the mourners who heard Mr Brennan say that his sister’s final 24 hours captured who she was over her 26 years. “Laura was a strong, independent lady who always held her head high.”

He said she walked into hospital on March 19th for what she and her family had thought would be a short stay.

However, he said that after staying overnight, she took a bad turn the following morning and died at 11.48am “surrounded by her adoring family”.

He reminded the congregation that his sister’s parting comment in her final public speech at the Clare Person of the Year award earlier this month was “live the best life you possibly can”.

To huge applause, he added: “Laura, you certainly did that.”

Private service

Ms Brennan’s remains were buried at a private family service at Drumcliffe cemetery outside Ennis before the Mass. The Mass did not take place until Wednesday as her brother, Colin Brennan, works for Concern in Syria and faced delays coming home to Ennis.

At the Mass, Mr Brennan said the terminal diagnosis from cervical cancer in September 2017 “was a hammer blow, but my sister just dusted herself down and persevered when facing the inevitable”.

He said she “campaigned vigorously and graciously for an increased uptake in the HPV vaccine to prevent women suffering a similar fate to her”.

He said that when she first received her cervical cancer diagnosis in December 2016, “life remained great and she told me ‘Ferg, it is curable, I got this’.”

Earlier during the celebration Mass, chief celebrant Fr Pat Malone described Ms Brennan as “a selfless giver who spent her energy to the last so that others may be spared the ill health that she experienced”.

Fr Malone said she had a great desire “to help prevent what is preventable”.

“In this manner of selfless giving she demonstrated the greatest Christian value of all, that we do onto others and wish for others as we would for ourselves. Laura is testimony to a great truth that one person can make a difference,” he said.

“So today, as we celebrate the life of Laura, we are thankful for having known her, for the person she was, the work she did, the challenges she offers us, and the courage and bravery she displayed in adversity.”

Fr Malone said Ms Brennan, “with great courage and with passion, threw herself into promoting the HPV vaccine. With courage and dignity she accepted what she could not change and focused on trying to prevent the same fate visiting other young women and men.”

Gold card

Fr Malone quoted Ms Brennan as she promoted the HPV vaccine that her “only reason for getting involved is my desire to save other families from going through this, to save other parents from watching their child suffer from a preventable illness . . .

“Once I am gone there is nothing more I can do about it so I hope you all listen to me while you have a chance, this vaccine saves lives. It could have saved mine, but it can save yours.”

Fr Malone said: “Laura had a gold card to Coppers in Dublin – one of her prized possessions. Her good works go before her to ensure that she has a gold card to the father’s heavenly kingdom.”

At the start of the Mass, gifts symbolising Ms Brennan’s life were brought forward. They included her brother, Colin Brennan, and a friend, Ali, bringing forward pictures of her family and her friends.

In a lighter moment at the Mass, a detention slip from Ms Brennan’s secondary school, St Flannan’s College, was brought forward as the congregation was reminded that her enthusiasm often did not transfer into academics during her teenage years, occasionally causing her parents to receive unwanted post.

A Clare ladies football jersey was also presented as Ms Brennan won an All-Ireland Division 1 Féile Medal in 2006 with The Banner club.

A friend and work colleague, Marina, brought forward her make-up bag.

Ms Brennan’s father thanked the people of Ennis whom he said had “wrapped their arms” around the family since his daughter’s diagnosis.

Ms Brennan is survived by parents, Larry and Bernadette and brothers, Colin, Fergal and Kevin.