Mourners told of 'special woman' Rita Childers


RITA CHILDERS, widow of Ireland’s fourth president Erskine Childers, was described as “a woman of substance” by her daughter, Labour Party MEP Nessa Childers, at her funeral Mass yesterday.

Mrs Childers, who died on Sunday at Carysfort nursing home, Glenageary, Co Dublin, at the age of 95, was warmly remembered at the service in the Church of the Miraculous Medal in Clonskeagh yesterday morning.

Ms Childers said her mother was a special and unusual woman with a life and personality of her own, “quite separate from my father”. She said her mother, “a woman of substance”, had carved out a diplomatic career in a climate that was not conducive to female advancement.

Born Margaret Dudley in Ballsbridge, Dublin, but known as Rita, she joined the staff of the British embassy and was posted to London during the second World War.

She met widower Erskine Childers, then a senior Fianna Fáil politician, while working as an attache at the Dublin embassy and they married in Paris in 1952. Mr Childers died suddenly in presidential office in 1974.

“I like to believe they are reunited somewhere at last,” Ms Childers said.

Describing politics as “a cold fire that can consume everything but itself”, Ms Childers said her mother was fiercely protective of family life.

Mrs Childers had a great sense of style and fashion, knowing exactly what looked well on someone. For this reason, Ms Childers said, she was not wearing black at the funeral. Ms Childers paid tribute to her foster sister Marie Duncan, who she said was “great at entertaining Rita and having little impromptu parties”.

Ms Childers was accompanied by her husband Ross Skelton and children Maya and Noah. Also among the family mourners was Carainn Childers, one of Erskine’s children from his first marriage.

Parish priest Fr John Murphy thanked the mourners for showing solidarity with the family on a day of grief and sadness. Fr Murphy said Mrs Childers had many achievements in her happy life and a loving God would forgive her sins, “although they might be slight and minor”.

President Mary McAleese was represented by Comdt Michael Walsh and Taoiseach Brian Cowen by Comdt Mick Treacy. Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, deputy leader Liz McManus and Judge Peter Smithwick were among the mourners. Dr Maeve Hillery, wife of former president Dr Patrick Hillery, also attended.

Labour MEP Alan Kelly was joined by Fianna Fáil MEPs Pat the Cope Gallagher and Liam Aylward. Among those also present were Labour TDs Ruairí Quinn, Emmet Stagg, Joe Costello and Jack Wall, as well as Labour Senators Ivana Bacik and Dominic Hannigan.

Former Green Party MEP Nuala Ahern and former Green councillor Tom Kivlehan also attended. Nessa Childers was a Green councillor before she was elected MEP for Labour in last year’s European election for the Ireland East constituency.

Burial took place at Derralossary Cemetery near Roundwood, Co Wicklow, where Mr Childers was buried in a State funeral 36 years ago.