Born: February 12th, 1949
Died: September 22nd, 2023
Bride Rosney, the former special adviser to Mary Robinson – the first woman president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 – has died suddenly and unexpectedly aged 74. Described variously as a brave champion of equality and social justice, a brilliant strategist and campaigner and an inspirational leader, Rosney saw herself principally as a public servant.
Following her work with Mary Robinson during her presidency, she joined Robinson in Geneva in her first year as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She was also CEO and later secretary of the board of trustees at the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.
President Michael D Higgins said that Rosney was “a fearless advocate who dedicated her life to the betterment of society, both in Ireland and throughout the world.” Mary Robinson said that Rosney was instrumental in shaping her presidential campaign and presidency with her values of social justice, equality and integrity. “She lived her values through her successful career informing and influencing significant positive changes in Irish society, but she always managed to avoid the credit she was due,” said Robinson.
Rosney’s partner, Peter MacMenamin, former general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, said she was never interested in power. “She was interested in being an influencer. She was perfectly happy not to be in the limelight and instead to be the woman in the shadows, just outside the camera’s view,” he said.
Before working for Mary Robinson, Rosney had a well-established career both as a teacher and education researcher. She worked as a science teacher in the Dominican convent [now St Dominic’s Secondary School] in Ballyfermot, then in Portmarnock Community School before becoming vice-principal and subsequently principal of Rosmini Community School in Drumcondra. From 1975-1979, she led a project to modernise science education in the Curriculum Development Unit in Trinity College Dublin.
When she returned from Geneva in 1998, she worked for a short time in public relations with Bill O’Herlihy. She later became director of communications at RTÉ from 2002-2009. During her time at RTÉ, she was central to Government’s commitments to an annual increase in the television licence fee for a number of years. “She had formidable organisational skills and a clarity of purpose with a capacity to distil things into succinct messages,” said Cathal Goan, who was director general of RTÉ from 2003-2011.
Rosney was also a board member of several organisations including EirGrid, the Irish Fiscal Policy Research Centre, Chamber Choir Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Druid Theatre. She won public relations consultants awards for her work with the National Gallery, the Arts Council and RTÉ.
Born in Kerry, the second of four children of solicitor Diarmuid Rosney and Eleanor Rosney, whose family worked in the hotel business, Bride spent the early part of her life in Cahersiveen. In a 1997 interview with The Irish Times, she spoke about how envious she was when her older sister started school that she followed her there. “I literally ran away from home when I was only three years of age,” she said. The nuns in the Presentation Convent in Cahersiveen allowed her to stay, and so began a lifelong passion for education.
‘Lazy as sin’
In that same interview, she said that while she adored school, she was “as lazy as sin… and always playing pranks”. Her family moved to Dublin when she was four and she completed her primary and secondary school education at the Dominican College in Eccles Street, Dublin. She found the teachers there passionate about the broad values of education, beyond the constraints of purely academic performance in exams. Following her secondary school education, she studied science at University College Dublin, followed by a higher diploma in education to become a science teacher. She later completed a master’s degree in computers at TCD.
Rosney famously sent former Fianna Fail Minister, Padraig Flynn 40 red roses with a note reading, ‘Thank you from the women of Ireland’, following his personal attack on Robinson
Having developed her skills as an activist in the Teacher’s Union of Ireland, Rosney immersed herself in Mary Robinson’s presidential campaign in 1990 with high expectations for herself and those she worked for. Others have chronicled how she sometimes clashed with the Labour Party hierarchy, whose ambitions for Robinson’s presidency didn’t quite match her own. Rosney remained enthralled by elections throughout her life, staying up all night for counts. She also travelled to New York with MacMenamin to witness the electrifying atmosphere of presidential elections there for five different American presidents.
Pat Montague, public affairs adviser and fellow northsider (Rosney grew up on North Circular Road before her family moved to Skerries and later Malahide) became close friends with her through the 1990s. “I was one of a few men who she took under her wing. She used to say, ‘everybody needs a critical friend and unfortunately I’m yours.’ Bride told you what you needed to hear rather than what you wanted to hear. She was very good at chiding you but it always came from a place of love,” said Montague.
A lifelong close friend of Rosney described her as “feisty, mischievous, seriously loyal and incredibly generous”. “She had a huge social conscience and willingly gave advice to young people. She loved beautiful things – craft, visual art and theatre – and symbolic gestures.” Rosney famously sent former Fianna Fáil minister Pádraig Flynn 40 red roses with a note reading, “Thank you from the women of Ireland” following his personal attack on Robinson during the 1990 presidential campaign. That attack seriously damaged Fianna Fáil candidate Brian Lenihan’s bid for president.
‘She said that when she reached 75, she was retiring from everything,’ said MacMenamin. Sadly, that day never came as she died in her sleep five months before her 75th birthday
MacMenamin, who was Rosney’s partner since the 1990s, said that she was hugely interested in people. “She was always out meeting people. She talked many people through difficulties and they always knew that it was 100 per cent confidential,” he said. Rosney was also known for her wicked sense of humour, her independence of mind and her ability to keep up to date on shenanigans in the world of politics and the arts. She had no time for grandiosity.
Rosney retired from RTÉ in 2009 although she continued her role on several boards and as an interviewer on the commission for public service appointments. “She said that when she reached 75, she was retiring from everything,” said MacMenamin. Sadly, that day never came as she died in her sleep five months before her 75th birthday.
Bride Rosney is survived by her partner, Peter MacMenamin, her sister, Mary, her brother, Michael, her nieces Elaine and Michelle, her nephews, Martyn and Patrick, friends and colleagues. She was predeceased by her brother, Paddy.