Tributes paid to Maeve Binchy


The writer and journalist Maeve Binchy (72) died peacefully in a Dublin hospital last night after a short illness. Her husband Gordon Snell was by her side.

She was probably one of the best-loved Irish writers of her generation.

President Michael D Higgins said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of her death.

“She was an outstanding novelist, short story writer and columnist, who engaged millions of people all around the world with her fluent and accessible style,” he said. “She was a great storyteller and we enjoyed her capacity to engage, entertain and surprise us. For others, particularly young and aspiring writers, she was not only a source of great encouragement; but also to so many, of practical assistance.

“In recent years she showed great courage and thankfully never lost her self-deprecating humour, honesty and remarkable integrity as an artist and human being.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny today paid his condolences to Mr Snell and the extended Binchy family. "Today we have lost a national treasure. Across Ireland and the world people are mourning and celebrating Maeve Binchy. She is a huge loss wherever stories of love, hope, generosity and possibility are read and cherished.

“Today as a nation we are thankful for and proud of the writer and the woman Maeve Binchy. I offer my deepest sympathies on behalf of the Government and the Irish people to her husband Gordon Snell and extended family."

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said Ms Binchy was "more than a writer. She was storyteller, and one of the best storytellers that Ireland has ever produced."

“Maeve was incredibly generous in every way but in particular she was generous with her own time," he said. "Despite the fact that she was a hugely successful author around the world, she never lost the human touch and would always make a point of taking time to talk to passers-by, well-wishers and supporters."

The Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Seamus Dooley, said the author had been a life member of the union and had only recently written a special article about her association with it in The Journalist magazine.

"She was a woman of rare charm, warmth and generosity of spirit. Hundreds of journalists have reason to be grateful for her guidance and encouragement. She was always available to young writers and at heart remained a teacher," he said.

"Maeve loved people and her unique insight into human nature shone through her journalism and later her novels. She will be missed for her sense of fun, her humour and for the grace and style which were her hallmark."

He also extended sympathy to her husband.

The Irish Times editor Kevin O’Sullivan said Ms Binchy had brought the essential qualities of the best journalists to all her writing - an insatiable curiosity about people and ear for dialogue.

"Her acute, sympathetic observation of the lives of others was at the heart of her hugely popular columns in The Irish Times, many of which were inspired by stray, overheard conversations, and of her bestselling novels, which told universal stories about friendship, family and love," he said.

"As Women’s Editor of The Irish Times, she was in the vanguard of giving a voice to a generation of Irish women who were determined to play their full part in reshaping society."

Mr O'Sullivan added: "Unfailingly generous and thoughtful, Maeve was loved by everyone she worked with at The Irish Times and she maintained a close relationship with the newspaper right up to her death. Her unique style transcended novels, short stories, letter-writing and beautifully-crafted journalism. Along with millions of her readers around the world, her colleagues here will miss her sorely.”

Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan said Ms Binchy's prolific works "will no doubt stand the test of time" and provide a window into an emerging and ever changing Ireland. "She was generous with her wisdom and time and will be remembered as someone who carried the torch for many emerging Irish women writers by sharing her experiences and knowledge with one and all," he said.

Arts Council chairwoman Pat Moylan said Ms Binchy was "a storyteller of rare gifts" and that her work had, and will continue to reach, an "extraordinarily wide" audience. “Her work was pioneering in its treatment of female subjects and her prose, while always intensely readable, tackled profound questions about Irish life and culture, past and present,” Ms Moylan said.

Born at Dalkey, Co Dublin, in May 1940, the writer was the eldest of four children. She is survived by her brother, Prof William Binchy, and sister Joan. Another sister, Renee, died some years ago.

As she wrote on her website: “I was the big bossy older sister, full of enthusiasms, mad fantasies, desperate urges to be famous and anxious to be a saint. A settled sort of saint, not one who might have to suffer or die for her faith. I was terrified that I might see a Vision like St Bernadette or the Children at Fatima and be a martyr instead. My school friends accused me of making this up but I never looked up into trees in case I saw Our Lady beckoning to me.”

She attended the Holy Child Convent in Killiney, then UCD and worked for a time as a teacher at various schools in Dublin before she began writing for The Irish Times. In 1968 she was appointed its Women’s Editor.

It was not what her mother intended. Maeve wrote: “My mother hoped I would meet a nice doctor or barrister or accountant who would marry me and take me to live in what is now called Fashionable Dublin Four. But she felt that this was a vain hope. I was a bit loud to make a nice professional wife, and anyway, I was too keen on spending my holidays in far flung places to meet any of these people.”

She spent time in those years “on the decks of cheap boats, or working in kibbutzim in Israel or minding children as camp counsellors in the United States”.

In letters home her accounts of escapades in those places amused her family greatly. “My parents were so impressed with these eager letters from abroad they got them typed and sent them to a newspaper and that’s how I became a writer,” she said.

She was appointed to The Irish Times London office in the early 1970s and it was there she began writing fiction. Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1982. It was in London also that she met her husband, Gordon Snell.

She described him as “a writer, a man I loved and he loved me and we got married and it was great and is still great. He believed I could do anything, just as my parents had believed all those years ago, and I started to write fiction and that took off fine. And he loved Ireland, and the fax was invented so we writers could live anywhere we liked, instead of living in London near publishers.”

She wrote 16 novels, two of which, The Lilac Bus and Echoes, were made into TV films while Circle of Friends, Tara Road and How About You were made into feature films. She wrote four collections of short stories, a play Deeply Regretted By and the novella Star Sullivan.

In this newspaper on July 3rd last she said: “I don’t have any regrets about any roads I didn’t take. Everything went well, and I think that’s been a help because I can look back, and I do get great pleasure out of looking back...I’ve been very lucky and I have a happy old age with good family and friends still around.”

She will be cremated in a private ceremony following removal on Friday morning to the Church of the Assumption, Dalkey.

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