Grieving Katherine Zappone bids sad farewell to ‘Annie darling’

Minister for Children says of wife Anne Louise Gilligan: ‘I have to let you go now’

Katherine Zappone recalled how she and her wife, Anne Louise Gilligan, had often said to each other they hoped to be ‘ladies in our 80s’. Photograph: David Sleator

Katherine Zappone recalled how she and her wife, Anne Louise Gilligan, had often said to each other they hoped to be ‘ladies in our 80s’. Photograph: David Sleator


Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Dr Ann Louise Gilligan decided to spend their life together six weeks after meeting in Boston College in 1981, Ms Zappone told the congregation at her wife’s funeral in Dublin on Saturday.

President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, former taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald were among the mourners at the service in Dublin City University (DCU) for Dr Gilligan who died on Thursday after a short illness.

To laughter and applause from mourners, Ms Zappone, her voice sometimes breaking, said Dr Gilligan was so proud of her appointment as a Minister. She had waited for her reappointment on Wednesday and passed away quietly and peacefully only hours after it happened.

“And now, in the presence of all gathered, I have to let you go,” she added.

Ms Zappone recalled they had often said to each other they hoped to be “ladies in our 80s”.

While she knew now that was not meant to be, that desire had filled every moment of their love for each other in the present.

“During the last few days of her illness, when the breadth of our conversations were drawn in, we spoke mostly about how blessed we were to have had the gift of such love between us,” she added. “We talked mostly about love.”

She said Dr Gilligan was “young, vivacious, creative, deeply thoughtful and fearless” when they first met.

“It was the first time I spotted her green eyes,” added Ms Zappone.

“And over the past 87 days of her recent illness, every day I would gaze at those green eyes and, no matter how much she was struggling with responding to what was going on in her brain, I could connect with her beautiful mind through those green eyes.”

‘My best friend’

She said she had many names for her late wife, including Ann Louise, Annie, darling, sweetheart, green eyes.

“Every day I would tell her that she was my life and my light, my counsellor, my adviser, my best friend, my forever friend, my beloved wife, partner and spouse,” she added.

During the service, symbols of Dr Gilligan’s life were placed on the coffin, a French dictionary, symbolising her love of the language, music CDs, a basket recalling her love of gardening, and a bowl reflecting her baking, most notably scones.

Her work with Cosán, the centre for learning and leadership in Jobstown, west Dublin, and her social activism, including her role in the marriage equality referendum, were also recalled by speakers.

Celebrant Dr Anne F O’Reilly said for a “tiny woman”, Dr Gilligan was “a mighty force”.

The chief mourners were Ms Zappone, Dr Gilligan’s sister, June Kelly, brother, Arthur Gilligan, sisters-in-law Suzanne Zappone Hoover, Margaret McCrohan Gilligan, brothers-in-law Karl Hoover, Bob Philip, Mark Zappone, Michael Kelly.

Ministerial colleagues of Ms Zappone present included: Minister for Finance, Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe; Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan; Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed; Minister Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy; Minister of State for Health Finian McGrath; Minister of State for Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor; and Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh.

Former minister for justice Nora Owen, Fine Gael TDs Maria Bailey, Colm Brophy, Noel Rock and Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly were also present.

Ms Gilligan was buried in Manor Kilbride cemetery in Co Wicklow.