Tributes have been paid to Taoiseach Micheál Martin after a “heartbreaking” interview in which he talked about the deaths of two of his children.
Mr Martin, in a lengthy interview with The Irish Times, detailed the pain and suffering felt by him, his wife Mary and their remaining children after the cot death of five-week old Ruairí in 1999 and the death of eight-year-old Leana in 2010.
He makes clear in the interview that he did consider walking away from politics but ultimately decided to remain and also to challenge to become leader of Fianna Fáil.
Of his son’s death, Mr Martin said: “Ruairí died of a cot death after five weeks, which was utterly devastating. A trauma of that kind never hit me until then, so your certainties kind of ebb away a bit. What I always say is that Micheál Aodh and Aoibhe took us through that, because when you have children and you endure trauma like that, you have to get up the following day.
“In the aftermath of that you’re obviously knocked out: you’re very, very down. You feel for quite a while that your spirits will not lift. It was April 1st he passed away. The birds are singing, but you don’t want to hear that at six in the morning, and yet that’s what you hear. I thought I’d never say that I hate the sound of the birds singing. But that passes in the medium term,” he said.
After Ruairi’s death, the Martins had two more children, Cillian and Leana, but Leana’s death in 2010, just as Ireland was in the throes of an economic disaster, caught national and international attention.
He said: “It was an awful time. We didn’t expect it. It was unexpected even though she had challenges, cardiac issues. People were very good to us. The first three weeks were a blur after Leana’s passing. Life was not meant to hit you so hard. After Leana, yes, I did weigh it up whether I’d carry on or not. I’ll reflect on that until the day I die: why do you do things? I’ve a view that it’s a certain inner thing that you keep going.”
Mr Martin has been reluctant to speak about his loss publicly before, despite media requests for him to do so, and he made clear that his children were not okay with him speaking about Ruairi and Leana in the political arena.
“Immediately in the years afterwards, we were very conscious, and certainly the kids were, they’d go, ‘Do your politics, but don’t bring Leana and Ruairí into it’.
“Even now I’m self-conscious about that,” he told interviewer Jen Hogan.
Labour leader Alan Kelly described the interview as a very honest and sensitive piece which marries loss and heartbreak with a desire for public service. “Thought provoking, timely and a story which I would advise everyone to read today,” Mr Kelly said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Everyone should read this today. The decency and determination through adversity of Micheál and his wife, Mary, shines through.”
Cork South-West TD Christopher O’Sullivan described the interview as “honest and heart-breaking”.
Former Fine Gael minister Jim Daly said in response to the interview: “Honesty, humility, heartbreak and humanity in abundance here. A thoroughly decent person who along with his family has privately sacrificed so much for public service.”
Mother and baby homes campaigner and Leinster House official Samantha Long said: “An extremely admirable interview, especially for one who doesn’t feel the need to parade his family’s private life. Sharing their story might give hope to others in pain.”
The full interview with Micheál Martin can be read at irishtimes.com
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can freephone the national Bereavement Support Line run by the HSE and Irish Hospice Foundation at 1800 80 70 77 (Monday-Friday 10am-1pm). The contact information for a range of mental health supports is available at mentalhealthireland.ie/get-support