Freedom of Limerick plans for Kate O’Brien blocked

Nick Rabbitts


Nick Rabbitts

Freedom plans blocked: Mayor of the Metropolitan Area Cllr Michael Sheahan and below, author Kate O'Brien
PLANS to award the Freedom of Limerick to one of the city’s most famous writers have been blocked - because councillors do not wish to bestow the title ‘on the dead’.

PLANS to award the Freedom of Limerick to one of the city’s most famous writers have been blocked - because councillors do not wish to bestow the title ‘on the dead’.

Mayor of the Metropolitan district, Cllr Michael Sheahan sought to have Kate O’Brien given the highest civic honour, along with aviator Sophie Peirce Evans and shipping reformer Charlotte Grace-O’Brien.

He had suggested International Women’s Day on March 8 for the ceremony to take place. But the proposal was vetoed at a behind-closed doors party leaders’ meeting this Monday, after councillors decided not to set a precedent of bestowing the freedom of the city on the deceased.

This comes despite former mayor Cllr Joe Leddin saying it is something that could be done.

Mayor Sheahan had already approached meetings administrator Eugene Griffin, and was confident of success when the matter came before council this Monday.

But councillors instead decided to honour the three women with a Civic Reception.

Speaking to the Limerick Leader, Mayor Sheahan admitted his disappointment.

But he added: “I am not going to have the event tarnished by the fact they are not giving the Freedom out. I am not going to have the women’s names dragged into the mud. Their names will be put into the public arena, and their lives will be honoured.”

Kate O’Brien is the only female writer in Ireland to have an annual literary festival in her name, held each February in Limerick. She is also honoured as one of Ireland’s Great Writers in a Hall of Fame at Dublin Airport.

Councillors have long pushed for her ancestral home in Mulgrave Street to be purchased for the city and brought out of its current state. But it was bought in 2012 by a private developer. It has however been used for some low key literary events.

Sinn Fein party leader Cllr Maurice Quinlivan, who was present at the meeting, confirmed the idea to give Ms O’Brien - who died in 1976 - the Freedom of Limerick was unanimously rejected.

“It has never been done before posthumously. It was bounced on us with no negotiation. It is not the way you would go about trying to give someone the Freedom of the City,” he said.

But Labour leader Cllr Leddin said with political will, bestowing the Freedom on someone after their death could be done.

“Can it be done? Yes. Has it been done? No. It is just a question of getting agreement from all the political parties and none in terms of Independents,” he said.

It is not the first time an attempt has been made to award someone the Freedom posthumously. In 2011, an attempt was made to honour the founding director of the Limerick Civic Trust, Denis Leonard, who died in 2009.

Mayor Sheahan was also seeking to honour Charlotte Grace O’Brien, who helped to reform Atlantic shopping in the 1880s with reference to single women travelling alone, as well as Lady Sophie Mary Heath - as she became known - who was the first woman to fly solo in an open cockpit from Cape Town to London.

Both women hail from West Limerick, and were described as “high achievers in difficult circumstances” by the current mayor.