As messages of condolence were descending on the Noonan family home in Limerick yesterday, the parish of St Paul in the suburb of Dooradoyle was rekindling memories of a cherished neighbour and gracious, elegant woman.
For most of the 43 years they were married, Michael and Flor Noonan lived in a modest semi in the Gouldavoher estate.
Flor was a Knightley from Castlemaine, Co Kerry, and it was easy to see how the Limerick man was smitten by her beauty when they first met in Dublin as they trained as teachers.
During the early years of their marriage, Michael taught at Crescent College Comprehensive and Flor at St Paul’s Primary School.
Their sons Tim, John, and Michael and daughters Orla and Deirdre attended both schools.
Tim now lives in the US; Michael Jr is in London; Orla is married in Paris and Deirdre is married in Dublin; while John followed in his father’s footsteps and teaches at Crescent College Comprehensive.
Although a busy mother of five, Flor also kept a keen eye on her other family — the children at St Paul’s.
Like other parents, when I would meet Flor while out for a walk or at the local shop, she would enquire how my three children were and what they were up to career-wise.
She was a magnificent example of that caring teaching tradition, which has been the bedrock of our education system.
When her husband was handed the very volatile justice ministry in the early 1980s, the Noonan home became something of a fortress, with armed gardaí posted in security boxes at the front and back of the house.
The now-retired Detective Sergeant Con McCarthy, who went on to head the Limerick drugs squad, was a young special branch man who spent many long hours on duty at the Noonan home.
Yesterday, he recalled the hospitality and graciousness Flor Noonan extended to the gardaí minding the family.
“She would always come out and have a chat with you and there was always a cup of tea. A truly fine woman,” he said.
It is now well over 10 years since Alzheimer’s disease began to take a grip on Flor.
I was working on the Limerick edition of the Evening Echo when Michael Noonan ran for the leadership of Fine Gael.
I rang Flor to arrange an interview with the woman who was likely to be wife of the next leader of the opposition.
On arriving at the house in Gouldavoher with photographer Liam Burke, she gave us a warm welcome. We got our quotes and our pictures. It was the last time I was to speak to Flor.
Little did I know that the disease, even at that stage, had begun advancing on its long and crippling journey.
Their five children had left the family nest and for years Michael Noonan stoically cared for his very ill wife while trying to keep his hands on the challenges of politics.
During the long years of her awful illness, her husband and children also had to endure a living torment.
Alzheimer’s can cast a lonely shadow over the family of the sufferer.
In recent weeks Michael Noonan spent long hours at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital after Flor was removed there with pneumonia from the nursing home in west Limerick where she had spent the past few years.
Earlier this week she was moved to Milford care centre where she passed away, surrounded by Michael and their children.
In our neighbourhood she will be sadly missed.
Tomorrow, the last farewell will be paid at 2pm. Requiem Mass is at St Paul’s church, yards from her old school room.
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