Family of Vicky Phelan ‘incredibly proud’ of her strength in ‘toughest of times’

Members of the public joined her family and friends at the celebration of her life in the Church of the Assumption in Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny
Family of Vicky Phelan ‘incredibly proud’ of her strength in ‘toughest of times’

People watching the big screen outside the church at the memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan

THE husband and children of Vicky Phelan have said they are “incredibly proud” of what she achieved and her strength in the “toughest of times”.

Hundreds of people gathered at a memorial service for the cervical cancer campaigner in her native Mooncoin in Co Kilkenny.

Members of the public joined her family and friends at the celebration of her life in the Church of the Assumption.

The 48-year-old died almost two weeks ago at Milford Hospice in Limerick after a long battle with cervical cancer.

Among those who attended the service was retired broadcaster and friend Charlie Bird and Labour TD Alan Kelly as well as fellow cervical check campaigners Lorraine Walsh and Stephen Teap.

 The memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan
The memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan

In a statement read out on behalf of her husband Jim and their two children Amelia and Darragh, the family said: “Vicky wanted an upbeat occasion after her passing where people could gather in the celebration of life and I can’t begin to tell you how much this all means to the three of us.

“We’re incredibly proud of Vicky and all that she achieved and the amazing person that she was.

“Through the toughest of times she shared incredible strength, looking after us, looking out for us and ensuring we always did our best as a family over the last number of years.

“Vicky wanted to tell you all to enjoy today and we hope it will be a memorable one for you all as it will be for us.” Ms Phelan grabbed the attention of the Irish public in 2018 after bringing a High Court case over how her cervical smear tests were handled.

She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, three years after a smear test result she had undergone was wrongly reported as clear.

Her case prompted more than 200 other women to come forward over misreported smear test results and led to a series of reviews of Ireland’s cervical cancer screening programme CervicalCheck.

 Charlie Bird at the memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan
Charlie Bird at the memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan

At the start of the memorial service on Sunday, her parents, Gaby and John lit seven candles in her memory.

The Mount Sion choir sang Coldplay’s Fix You and Lean On Me while singer Niall Breslin also played during the two-hour service.

Vicky’s sister Lyndsey Kelly said she will go down in history as one of the “bravest women in Ireland”.

“To me she was my sister and will always be my big sister,” Lyndsey told those gathered.

“There is not enough paper in this world to write about how I feel about my sister. Vicky referred to both of us as chalk and cheese. But we laughed about it so much.

“We had so much love for each other and a bond never to be broken and that was all we needed.

“Vicky is one of a kind. She’s remarkable, resilient and bursting with courage. She is honest and stubborn.

“She touched countless lives. Her fame was not something she wanted for herself, but to help others.

“She wanted to make a change and she made sure she made a difference. That difference

 Stephen Teap with his sons Noah and Oscar at the memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan
Stephen Teap with his sons Noah and Oscar at the memorial celebration for the late Vicky Phelan at the Church of the Assumption, Mooncoin, Kilkenny. Picture Dan Linehan

had such an impact on so many people’s lives.” Ms Walsh also spoke at the service, describing Vicky as a woman who “spoke the truth with a passionate work ethic”.

“She was a woman on a mission and the quest seemed to drive her further to ensure change happened,” Ms Walsh said.

“As another woman let down by the state, I want to acknowledge that without your strength, determination and stubbornness, not alone would we have not known the truth of what happened, we would still be subjected to a very flawed cervical check programme.

“Your courage to step forward at such a difficult time in your life is admirable and so very brave.

“Vicky, most importantly, you achieved so many things in the last four years.

“You’ve ensured a better future for the women of Ireland and indeed their daughters.

“No one will ever know the true extent of the work and efforts you put into achieving that. But I know it was my privilege and honour to share that work with you.

“I know that other women will not face what you had to face. Vicky you were such a real and honest person that opened up many difficult conversations about women’s health and normalised it for all of us.

“Your openness and honesty resonated with so many people that even from afar, people fell in love with you.

“They felt they knew you and respected you. You’ve taught us all so much about strength in the middle of adversity and that out of bad situations, good things happen.

“This is a sincere and heartfelt thank you from Mna na hEireann. Forever in our hearts.” 

Mr Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer five years ago, said: “As difficult as it is to stand in front of you all right now, one thing that has never been a problem is finding the words to describe these incredible women.

“Thank you, Vicky for being such a positive force in mine, your family and your friends’ lives.

“Thank you, Vicky for being that voice of reason, that rock to lean on when we needed you most.

“Thank you, Vicky for all of us knowing the right thing to say whenever we were in doubt, or lacked the courage to move forward.

“Thank you, Vicky for sharing that wonderful sense of humour with us and delivering those one-liners. Maybe not at the most appropriate times every time, but always with that smirk that lit up the room.

“But most important Vicky, thank you for just being you.” Fr Martin Tobin said: “How can I add anything to the wonderful tributes and the glowing accolades that Vicky has already received for all that she did.

“I don’t have to. I don’t need to.

“Today is deeper than the personal and public persona of Vicky Phelan. Today is about Vicky Phelan that you knew, that you loved and that you lost too young.

“Before she was a celebrated and national hero, she was first and will always be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece and a friend.” A number of gifts representing her life were brought to the altar by her two children, nieces and nephews.

They included a family picture, Belfast city marathon medal, her memoir Overcoming, sand from her favourite beach in Doonbeg, Co Clare, a Kilkenny football jersey, Munster rugby jersey, and a vinyl and gavel to represent her fight for truth and justice for Irish women.

The choir, joined by those gathered, sang Stand By Me, which was followed by a standing ovation in memory of Vicky.

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