Hundreds of mourners attended a mass of remebrance for Laura Brennan at St Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ennis on Wednesday.
Laura was laid to rest following a private burial ceremony at Drumcliffe Cemetary. Fr. Pat Malone co-parish priest of the Abbey pastoral area was chief celebrant with Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan presiding over the liturgy while Bishop Emeritus Willie Walsh proclaimed the Gospel. A memoriam card presented to mourners lists a number of quotes from Ms Brennan in which she encouraged people to make the most of their lives and celebrate their loved ones.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was represented by his Aide de Camp, Commandant Caroline Burke and Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins was represented by his Aide de Camp, Colonel Liam Condon while Minister for Health, Simon Harris there on behalf of the Government, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr. Michael Begley was in attendance as was Ryan Tubridy who interviewed the 26 year old when she inspired the nation whilst appearing on The Late Late Show.
Prior to the commencement of the celebration of Laura’s life, symbols were brought to the altar. These included; photographs, a Clare jersey, a makeup bag, The Greatest Showman CD and a note from her school going days at St Flannan’s College.
Addressing the congregation, Fr Malone began by expressing his condolences to the Brennan family. “When Laura was born 26 years ago, Larry and Bernie you were so happy and you set about the task of choosing a name for your little girl. Choosing a name for a child is so special. You choose the name Laura, calling her after her Dad Laurence, and Joanne a name you picked with its biblical implications, a name you selected because it meant “a gift from God”. So from the beginning Laura Joanne Brennan was seen as a gift from God, and so she was. The significance of this gift from God extended to the whole family where Laura brought much joy and fun and life, and so many challenges too. Gift from God to friends with whom she enjoyed life. Gift from God to those she reached out to in kindness all her life. Gift from God to those she reached out to as an advocate for the HPV vaccine. In all those areas of life she made a difference”.
Fr Malone spoke of the kindness and courage of the family. “We need to remember that Laura loved life, the excitement of life, the parties, the holidays, the concerts, the weekends away, time for personal pampering and of course high quality beauty products. Her personal goodness was evident all through her life and it was not unknown for her to reach out to a homeless person on the street, stopping to talk and check if it was tea or coffee that would satisfy the immediate need. So the courage, the awareness of the needs of others and the willingness to get involved in doing good which enabled her to engage as an advocate for the HPV vaccine was in action all her life. Laura spoke often in the midst of her personal illness about being in control of her personal freedom to act. How true that was of her. That freedom was facilitated by you as parents and siblings by the manner in which you allowed and helped her organise her schedule while adapting your own schedules so that she could do the things she wanted to do, in the middle of her personal illness.
“For this reason I believe that we, and so many people in our country, and those in the health services, owe a huge debt of gratitude to you, for the manner in which Laura promoted so passionately the call for women’s healthcare in our country and indeed abroad. And we sincerely thank you for that. In the course of your journey with Laura, you did so many things together; one of the favourite ones was attending the Late Late Toy Show in November. Many in the family and elsewhere have wondered, and I actually heard Ryan Tubridy, a friend of Laura’s and presenter of the show, wondering how those tickets were secured. I want to end all the speculation now, the tickets were secured by Laura’s mam Bernie applying for them as a treat for her daughter knowing what a night like that in the midst of the magic of childhood dreams would mean for her daughter. That’s how it came about and this shows the constant care, constant desire to make life good that Bernie Brennan wished for her daughter”.
He maintained that Laura was testimony to the “to a great truth that one person can make a difference”. Fr Malone revealed that her gold card to Coppers Nightclub in Dublin was “one of her prized possessions”. He concluded the homily by saying, “I thought I was finished but I felt Laura’s tug, ‘don’t forget to say it’, she urges me. Celebrating her life we must remember her work as an advocate for the HPV vaccine. In one of her interviews Laura said: ‘I’ll be gone soon. Once I am gone there is nothing more I can do about it so I hope you all listen to me while you have a chance, this vaccine saves lives. It could have saved mine, but it can save yours.’ Listening to her it is clear she is asking all of us here today to be advocates of the vaccine and to encourage those eligible for it to receive it”.
Kevin one of Laura’s three brothers in a beautiful communion reflection noted his sister’s legacy was what she brought to this Earth. “Not how did she die, but how did she live? Not what did she gain, but what did she give? These are the units to measure the worth. Of a woman as a woman, regardless of birth. Not, what was her church, nor what was her creed? But had she befriended those really in need? Not where did she rest, nor why wasn’t she here. But did she bring back a smile to banish a tear. This is your legacy and how we measure your worth. Thank you Laura, for all that you brought to this Earth”.
“I had the privilege of meeting Laura last month at the Clare Person of the Year ceremony in Dublin and I knew immediately that evening, I was in the presence of an outstanding person. I was struck by her strength of character, her determination, her belief in what she was doing and above all by her warmth and humanity. We all know she was very special and she will be missed terribly, by so many. However, as we heard here today and know well her legacy as a person and her advocacy will live on and achieve so much that is good, that is true, that is beautiful,” Bishop Fintan Monahan remarked.
An emotional tribute from Fergal Brennan remembered his “powerful, strong, gentle, courageous, kind and beautiful sister, inside and out”. He recalled that Laura walked into hospital on March 19 for what the family and Laura thought would be a short stay. After staying overnight, Laura took a bad turn at 9am the following morning and passed away at 11.48am “surrounded by her adoring family”.
Fergal said Laura’s terminal diagnosis from cervical cancer in September 2017 “was a hammer blow, but Laura just dusted herself down and persevered when facing the inevitable”. “Life remained great and she told me ‘Ferg, it is curable, I got this’,” he said of Laura’s comments following her first cancer diagnosis of December 2016. The 26-year-old was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 2B when she was 24, but was steadfast in her determination to campaign for teenage girls to get the HPV vaccine, which can prevent the type of cancer she died from.
Despite her diagnosis, she campaigned tirelessly over the past 18 months to encourage young women to get the vaccine. She appeared in a number of health promotion videos using her voice and telling her own story about how she, as an ordinary young woman, developed the illness. The Health Service Executive confirmed there had been an increase of 20% in the uptake of the HPV vaccine in the past two years to 80%.
Mourners were reminded by Fergal of Laura’s parting comment in her final public speech at the Clare Person of the Year award earlier this month was “live the best life you possibly can”. To huge applause, Fergal commented: “Laura you certainly did that”.
Laura Brennan is survived by her parents Bernie and Larry and her brothers Colin, Fergal and Kevin, extended family and friends.
Tribute video by RTÉ