Brian Finnegan pays tribute to Ann Louise Gilligan, who with her wife Katherine Zappone, not only changed individual lives for the better, but also changed Ireland for the best.
I first met Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan in May 2006, when I went to An Cosán in Tallaght to interview her and her wife, Katherine Zappone for the Pride issue of GCN. Both women met me at the front door, and as they led me through the community centre, I remember feeling a sense of love emanating from the people there for them. A community-based project, An Cosán was founded by Ann Louise and Katherine in 1986 to transform the lives of people on the margins through education and citizenship. The Shanty, as it was first known, has been truly transformational in many, many people’s lives, and it is just one of the legacies left behind by Ann Louise, who passed away today, June 15, 2017, after a short illness.
The love I felt all around in An Cosán for Ann Louise and Katherine was mirrored in the deep love they showed for each other. I was there to interview them about their 2004 Canadian marriage, the celebration itself, and the subsequent case they were taking against the Irish government for its legal recognition. I wrote at the time, their love is “there in the way they look at each other, their tacit understanding and respect for each other, their sharing of sadness, but most of all the way they laugh together.”
Ann Louise was soft spoken and she chose her words carefully to express the magnitude of her love for Katherine, the emotional depths of her own journey to her wedding day, and her coming to terms with herself, as all of us in the LGBT community have had to do.
She spoke in no uncertain terms about how unfair it was that gay and lesbian people were treated with such inequality, both in society and by the Catholic Church, and with passion about the case she and Katherine were taking. I remember thinking, this soft-spoken woman is also a formidable force, and as our interview wound up that day, I fell in love with her too.
Katherine and Ann Louise did not win when they had their day in court, but their case was the foundation of the movement for same-sex marriage in Ireland. Without Ann Louise’s tenacity, her fighting spirit and her fundamental desire for justice for all people, we would not be the country we are today. From their case came KAL, an organisation that became Marriage Equality, which then became Yes Equality, along with GLEN and ICCL, to campaign for a referendum win in 2015. It was a campaign that will go down in history for the victory of love and equality in a changed Ireland, and the acceptance that Irish people finally showed for their lesbian and gay brothers and sisters, despite vociferous opposition from the Catholic Church.
Over the years of Marriage Equality I attended many events at which I met Katherine and Ann Louise, who were always on hand to speak about their love for each other, and its equality to all love. There was not one of those events where Ann Louise didn’t take me aside and give me some gentle words of encouragement in my own work. In 2016 at City Hall I watched her and Katherine celebrate their marriage again, with all the history it entailed, and I was moved to tears by their love for each other. Again at that event, one of the most important days of her own life, Ann Louise gave me words of encouragement.
Today we lost a great woman. She was woman who changed individual lives with An Cósan, and the lives of many children in her years as a beloved primary teacher, and the lives of students during her years teaching at St. Patrick’s College and DCU. She was a woman who changed the lives of many friends, and who changed the life of her best friend, the woman she spent the rest of her life with from the moment she met her in 1981, Katherine Zappone.
She also was a woman who changed Ireland, who fought against injustice and won on all our behalf.
My abiding memory of her will be the moment she kissed Katherine at Dublin Castle the day Ireland overwhelmingly voted for equal marriage. It was a moment of triumph for her fighting spirit, and triumph of all of us because of that fighting spirit. My deepest sympathies go out to my friend, Katherine, who knew true love with Ann Louise and must now learn to live without her, although I know her memory will be alive and vital. May we all show Katherine the support of our community as she gets through these days, and may Katherine know how much we loved and valued her beautiful wife, Ann Louise.
May Ann Louise rest in love and peace.
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