IRELAND’S prime minister led tributes yesterday to best-selling novelist Maeve Binchy, who has died aged 72.
She died in hospital after a short illness. Her husband, children’s writer Gordon Snell, was by her side.
Irish PM Enda Kenny said Ireland had lost a national treasure and offered his sympathies, on behalf of his coalition government and the Irish people, to her family.
He said: “Across Ireland and the world people are mourning and celebrating Maeve Binchy.
“She is a huge loss wherever stories of love, hope, generosity and possibility are read and cherished. Today, as a nation, we are thankful for and proud of the writer and the woman Maeve Binchy.”
Ms Binchy penned 16 novels and sold more than 40 million books. Several of her works were adapted for screen, including Circle Of Friends, The Lilac Bus and Tara Road.
Oscar-winning actress Brenda Fricker, who starred in a number of the productions, said of Ms Binchy: “She was charming, intelligent, warm, generous in her time, with her effort, with her work.
“I just had the greatest of respect for her because she suffered badly from arthritis, and she had a lot of pain, and she never complained, you know.”
Irish authors Cathy Kelly, Sheila O’Flanagan and Dermot Bolger grieved the loss of a friend. “I feel like a golden light has gone out,” said Ms Kelly. Novelist Jilly Cooper said Ms Binchy was a natural storyteller. “She was a darling – I’m very, very sad,” she said. “She was so kind and funny and captivating, and was a brilliant writer.”
Other authors tweeted tributes. Ian Rankin wrote: “Maeve Binchy was a gregarious, larger than life, ebullient recorder of human foibles and wonderment.”
Born in Dalkey, south of Dublin, Ms Binchy studied at University College Dublin before starting work as a teacher. However, she changed the course of her life by becoming a journalist with the Irish Times and moved to England, where she became London editor with the paper and met her husband.
The couple continued to live in Dalkey, a few hundred yards from where she grew up. Her popular early collections of humorous short stories were based in London and Dublin. Her first novel, Light A Penny Candle, became a best-seller when published in 1982 and made Ms Binchy one of the UK’s top ten most popular writers and took her work onto the New York Times’ Best-seller List.
Dublin-based charity Age Action said Ms Binchy was a generous supporter. “Maeve was always so willing to give her time, endorse our work and send the occasional encouraging message to staff,” said chief executive Robin Webster. “Even in the latter years, when health challenges restricted her mobility, Maeve did work for us.”
Though she announced her retirement in 2000, she continued writing.
Her last novel, Minding Frankie, was published in 2010 – the same year she got a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards.
In a personal message on her website when Minding Frankie was released in the US, she told fans: “My health isn’t so good these days and I can’t travel around to meet people the way I used to. But I’m always delighted to hear from readers, even if it takes me a while to reply.”
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