Tears shed on Shannonside for a Freewoman of Limerick

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Shelia Considine and Ann McSweeney, reflecting on Vicky Phelan's life and legacy.

IN VICKY Phelan’s adopted home of Limerick, even the unseasonal sunshine on Shannonside couldn’t dry the tears brought by her death.

A book of condolence was opened at City Hall where the tricolour flew at half-mast as a mark of respect for the County Kilkenny native who was awarded the Freedom of the City last February.

Some on the streets of the Treaty City fought back tears when asked to sum up what the women’s health campaigner meant to them.

Pauline Ryan, from Dooradoyle, said: “It’s so sad. Vicky fought so hard, God love her and her family. I’ll remember her for the battle that she had and the patients that she stood up for, especially the ladies with cervical cancer. They had been forgotten about – Vicky put it out there.”

Speaking when she was conferred as a Freewoman of Limerick nine months ago, Ms Phelan told reporters she wanted to be remembered as “someone who asks questions.That’s really what I would advise anybody to do, so I suppose my legacy is that I would hope people would learn to stand up for themselves”.

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Back on the city streets today, Limerick shopper Toni Kearney, of Old Cratloe Road, summed up the people’s reaction to news of the passing of their adopted heroine: “If there’s a bigger honour than the Freedom of the City, then Vicky should be given it.

“She deserves it because there’s hundreds of women, probably thousands of women alive now, because of her, because now people are more aware and they know not to always believe everything they are told, to double check everything.

“That’s down to Vicky, she has saved lives, that’s the truth. She was someone to be admired, may she Rest In Peace.”

Mary Kearney, from Moyross described Ms Phelan as a “legend”, and Rose O’Donnell, from Gerald Griffin Street, said she was brave.

“If she hadn’t done what she did the CervicalCheck scandal wouldn’t have been uncovered. We really should have more courage to stand up for ourselves”.

Limerick City couple, Ann and Anthony Hourigan, said they will remember Ms Phelan for having “fought for others”, while Turlough McNamara, from the Ballysimon Road, said the courageous mother-of-two had “made governments stand up and listen, and made the authorities stand to account.

“What do we learn from Vicky? Better health and care of women. We all have wives, mothers, daughters, and hopefully for future generations of women to come, they will have better healthcare,” he added.

Vicky Phelan after being conferred with the Freedom of Limerick last February.

Fine Gael councillor Daniel Butler, who was Mayor of Limerick when he presented Ms Phelan with the freedom of the city, said: “From Limerick’s perspective Vicky became ‘our Vicky’, there is a love affair between the people of Limerick and Vicky and today that love is being expressed in heartbreak and hurt, as we try to come to terms with the loss of a colossus who has inspired us.

“She is a national heroine, a national hero, and somebody who has saved lives and changed our country for the better.”

He also paid tribute to Ms Phelan’s support for allowing people, particularly those with life debilitating and terminal illnesses, the choice to be medically assisted to die and end their suffering.

“Vicky has empowered us all as people dealing with the medical system, particularly women. She has also changed our relationship with death. That was a national conversation that was created by her, which makes us a healthier society.

“She changed Ireland for the better, she has taught us how to live our lives, and that living our lives is not just about us, it’s about the greater good as well. That’s the way Vicky lived her life,” Cllr Butler added.

Vicky Phelan’s funeral details have yet to be announced, however it is understood mental health advocate Bressie will sing at the ceremony, and Galway rockers The Stunning are expected to perform her favourite song, the aptly-titled “Brewing Up A Storm”.

The national flag at half mast at Limerick City Hall in tribute to Vicky Phelan.