‘I will miss my friend Maeve hugely’

Actor Frank Kelly pays tribute to his long-term friend

Maeve had thousands of friends, many of them intimately more important to her than me, but I knew her for more than 50 years.

I was at University College Dublin with Maeve. I did civil law which included her subject history, so we shared lectures and had the same professor.

We knew each other well then; I went to her 21st birthday party. She wasn’t terribly mobile; she was always a big girl who couldn’t get around easily. She’d sit outside the History Library and kind of hold court, mainly talking about college politics and who-ever was making a fool of themselves — but she was never unkind or sending people up. This became a daily happening. A lot of information was exchanged and a lot of fun was had.

Gradually our friendship grew over the years. Maeve became a teacher and whoever was taught by her was very blessed. She loved children. She said that not becoming a mum was a source of sadness to her. She met her husband Gordon in London. Maeve has said publicly that when they married it was too late for children but not too late for love. Gordon and Maeve had an idyllic marriage with never a cross word. They loved each other so much. Theirs was the love affair to end all love affairs. Gordon was absolutely devoted to Maeve.

I lost sight of Maeve for a few years until she appeared in The Irish Times as a journalist. She was always very entertaining. She shone immediately and was women’s editor.

I first became aware of her books when her debut novel Light A Penny Candle was published in 1982. There was a kind of universality about Maeve’s writing. Most of her writing was for women. She knew who read her books and who didn’t. I read about two. But she accepted if you weren’t a reader of her books. She wouldn’t hold it against you. She was very excited and pleased at the screen adaptations. She was all celebratory about the fact that somebody thought her books worthy of filming.

Success never had a detrimental effect on Maeve. She lived in Dalkey all her life, and it was very convenient for her. The house she shared with Gordon is small and very unassuming from the outside, though a miracle happens when you enter because it’s much bigger on the inside and always beautifully kept. There’s a lovely room under the rooftop with space for Maeve and Gordon and their computers. In the mornings they sat down and wrote together.

A while ago a journalist from one of the big magazines went to interview Maeve at the house, and after chatting to her for a while said: “You can’t possibly live here — will you show me where you really live?” Maeve smiled sweetly and said: “You see the door behind you... get out and never come back!” It was the only time I ever heard of her really being cross, but she did it so politely. I know she did a tremendous amount of extremely charitable things behind the scenes. We’d meet at events and various functions, and I remember Gordon’s 70th birthday which was a regal affair at the Mansion House in Dublin. They came to dinner at our house a number of times, and my wife Bairbre and I would go theirs. It’s not that long since we had a lovely luncheon at their house, just the four of us chatting for hours and drinking copious amounts of wine. Maeve said: “Each person get 5 minutes to talk about their ailments, and then we don’t discuss them anymore!” She was like that; she waged a war on self-pity and was completely devoid of it. She was in extraordinary pain an awful lot of the time but she suffered and said nothing. I think she had about everything one could have, including a very bad heart and acute arthritis.

On Monday, Jul 30, Bairbre suggested I ring Maeve and see how she was getting on. I rang at teatime and her sister Joan answered the phone, sounding confused and upset, so I knew then that Maeve was probably either dying or dead because there was such a sense of sadness.

The whole country is devastated. There’s an enormous affection for her. Gordon, who will be 80 in October, will miss Maeve dreadfully, but I think the fact that he was loved as much as she was will help him cope. Bairbre and I will miss her hugely. She was quite extraordinary. I’d like to see her remembered as someone who gave a very positive uplifting message to people through her work.


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