Mairead was the wind beneath the wings of her husband Nicky

Published 08/09/2015 | 00:00

The late Mairead Furlong.
The late Mairead Furlong.
The late Mairead Furlong, pictured leading one of her regular tours of the County Art Collection at Council Buildings.

THE two little yellow and red flower-filled wooden wheelbarrows were not there last week.

Mairead Furlong lovingly planted, prepared, watered and put them out early every morning on the roadside down the drive from her home at Drinagh Lodge near the Rosslare Roundabout for years. She took them back in every night. Now they were gone.

The wheelbarrows had lighted up the lives of thousands of visitors to Ireland coming to and from the ships and many more thousands of natives going to and from work for many years. They were a welcome for foreign visitors to Wexford town. The blue sign inscribed in Olde English script with the word 'Antiques' was still there but the wheelbarrows were not.

Many of the 300 or so people on the way to Mairead Furlong's funeral mass at Piercestown Church missed them. The priest speaking about her from the altar said locals and tourists will miss them. They were a symbol of the art historian, the music lover, the tenacious business-woman, and the wind beneath the wings of the success of her author, historian and playwright husband Nicky.

The wheelbarrows told in one image the nature of the petite, focused, disciplined, business-like art and culture lover and lecturer who was known throughout Ireland from Trinity College to Kellys of Rosslare to Selskar Abbey to the Arts Centre, to Wexford Opera House and to the Wexford County Council offices at Carricklawn where some of her own and her husband Nicky's collection are on display.

Her funeral mass with celebrant Fr John O'Reilly assisted by Fr Lorenzo Cleary and Monsignor Joe McGrath, six altar servers and the Piercestown Church choir was attended by leaders of community, business, politics, religion, the media, the library and the arts were there.

Mairead's passing leaves a huge legacy and at the same time a huge vacuum following more than 60 years of contribution to the town and county.

She was approachable, down to earth, no-nonsense, caring, charitable, charismatic and witty.

Mairead held the attention of thousands of people in lectures on fine art and on antiques for more than 50 years. The priest told the congregation that the candle is blown out just before a new dawn. He told of Mairead's contribution to the church and how sales from an auction that she advised on went to developing the new oratory to the church which coincidentally was being used for the first time on the day of her funeral.

The hundreds who came to Piercestown Church for her removal and for her funeral included many from the world of politics including Minister Brendan Howlin, his brother Ted and Cllr George Lawlor, Cllr Jim Moore, the Mayor Cllr Ger Carty; Avril Doyle among the former leaders attending.

From music and art were members of Piercestown Church choir for which Mairead's husband Nicky plays the organ every Wednesday, Elsie Dempsey and Lar Roche from the Wexford Light Opera, Peter Pearson, the artist, Paddy Berry, builder and singer-songwriter and David McLoughlin of the National Opera House.

Leaders of Wexford business included Liam Griffin, Cyril Nolan of the Credit Union, Paul Hennessy of PwC, Madeleine Quirke of Wexford Chamber, Breda Cahill, outgoing president of the New York Wexford Association and Eamon Buttle of South East Radio. Wexford County Council's past leaders Eddie Breen, and Seamus Dooley and Don Curtin were among them as was one time Macra na Feirme and IFA leader John Breen.

From media, there were old colleagues Tony O'Brien, former INM journalist, now communications adviser to local authorities and the music industry and Phil Murphy, former editor of Ireland's Own, friends from the Wexford Historial Society and ancient Guild of writers and researchers, Willie Murphy, formerly of Agricultural Institute and Teagasc, Celestine Murphy, of Wexford Library, Pat Sills, Johnstown Castle and Dr Liam Gaul, author and musician, a former staff member at Johnstown Castle.

Speaking to this newspaper last week, Nicky Furlong attributed his own success to Mairead's discovery of his writing abilities after they were married in 1959.

'My family wanted me to stick to farming, but she discovered I was a writer and from then on I started to write,' Nicky told this newspaper.

Staff members at Wexford County Council said they were deeply at the passing of someone who had played such a key role in the life of the county.

'Mairead was a long time staunch supporter of the Arts in County Wexford and a founding member of the Friends of the Wexford County Art Collection,' the council said in a statement.

'Mairead worked tirelessly to promote the County Art Collection and to procure donations. Many of the fine pieces within the County Council art collection are a direct result of Mairead's eloquent powers of persuasion and her unwavering tenacity.

Martin Doyle, chairman of Wexford Chamber said Mairead will be missed by all of Wexford, saying she was a wonderfully talented lady who touched the lives of many.

'The time spent with me and the advice given during the early days of my Presidency of Wexford Chamber was invaluable and I will always be grateful to her for that. She was always willing to share her views on business and more importantly to share her views on what the Chamber could or should be doing,' he said.

In remembering Mairead, Madeleine Quirke, CEO of Wexford Chamber, spoke fondly about the many occasions they reminisced about Wexford Chamber and all the past board members and members.

'She was always a great friend to the Chamber, having served as President from 1993 to 1995, and was instrumental in registering the Chamber with the Companies Registration Office and making Wexford Chamber of Industry and Commerce a legal entity.

'A lovely lady and somebody that will be fondly remembered. There are some people who it is an absolute privilege to encounter in life and Mairead was one of those,' said Madeleine.

Mairead was a director of Distillery Press, publishers of many of husband Nicky's 24 books and several plays, and is the twin sister of Canon Dr. Muriel McCarthy, former curator of Marsh's Library, Dublin and of the Jonathan Swift Collection.

A member of the Breslin family of Offaly/Westmeath and Dublin, Mairead, who died on Friday (August 28) at the age of 84, is a sister in law of Professor Ann Breslin of UCD, co-author of the internationally-acclaimed book on Quantum Mechanics 'Does God Play Dice'. Her death is deeply regretted by Nicky, her sister Muriel, sisters-in-law Ann and Ina, nephews, nieces, other relatives and many friends.

Wexford People

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