Aideen Cooney Remembered

Aideen Cooney was a nurse and an FNF Scholar. In December 2023 we heard the very sad news, from her husband Peter, that Aideen had passed away in May 2023. Peter described how ‘she was delighted and honoured by the recognition from FNF’ and that ‘being present at the Westminster Abbey ceremony  was one of the most joyous moments of Aideen’s life’. You can read about her nursing career in the obituary below. It is clear she touched the lives of many and we are proud to have got to know Aideen through her Scholarship.

A native of O’Callaghan’s Mills, County Clare in Ireland’s rural south-west, Aideen Cooney completed her registration as a general nurse at St. John’s Hospital Limerick in 1984. Her interests in midwifery led her to Stobhill Maternity Unit in Glasgow where she became a registered midwife in November 1985. Aideen’s first-hand experience in Glasgow of social and material deprivation caused her to be a tireless proponent for the rights of the marginalised and the disadvantaged.

On leaving Scotland in January 1987, Aideen travelled to Australia to take up the position of registered sister / associate charge nurse in Acute Medicine and Emergency Medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. In May 1988, she moved to Ealing Maternity Unit, holding the position of Staff Midwife until October 1990.

In the early 1990s, Aideen moved to frontline community work with marginalised communities in the English Midlands, where her roles included assisting in a day-care centre for community psychiatric clients, teaching English as a second language in an Asian Women’s Centre, running a children’s play scheme, being a prison visitor, and delivering pastoral care in an AIDS Unit. Those experiences honed her skills as an empathetic team-leader and conscientious team-member.

Aideen returned to Ealing Maternity Unit as a Staff Midwife in September 1993. Her career took a new turn at this juncture: she began working in the community as a Health Visitor from September 1995 and received her BSc in Community Health in 1996. After graduation, Aideen moved to Germany where she worked among the British expatriate community in a role that combined her two great skills, namely, midwifery and health visiting. She later told me that this period was the happiest of her professional life.

March 2001 marked the beginning of Aideen’s tenure as a Health Visitor in the Women and Children’s Directorate of the Western Health and Social Care Trust, which is responsible for the provision of social and health care within the western part of Northern Ireland. Initially, she found herself working within Omagh Town just over two and a half years after the Omagh Bomb, the worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’. Within a short period of time, Aideen took responsibility for a sizeable rural caseload in the Sperrin Mountains district of County Tyrone. At one point, she estimated that her caseload comprised about 300 children, linking her to three medical centres. She took a lead role in empowering parents and children by maintaining links with mother and toddler groups and by providing infant massage and rhythm and rhyme programmes in this disadvantaged, sprawling rural district.

During the following years, Aideen fine-tuned her knowledge of specific areas of women’s and children’s health by studying for certificates and diplomas in sexual health, cognitive behaviour therapy and primary care coronary heart disease. From about 2015, however, her interests began focusing on children’s nutrition, sleep patterns and mental health, leading her to embark upon an MSc in Infant Mental Health and Early Years Development. At the core of this work was her interest in brain development, the establishment of emotional security and a sense of self through the creation of memories etc. On completion of her MSc, Aideen was assigned the role of Specialist Health Visitor in Infant Mental Health in the Western Trust.

In April 2019, Aideen received a Travel Scholarship from the Florence Nightingale Foundation that enabled her to travel to Toronto. At the University of Toronto, she participated with her usual enthusiasm in its ‘Watch, Wait and Wonder Programme’ before attending the Sleep Clinic for several days at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (The Sick Kids Hospital).

Very shortly after her return from Canada in mid-May 2019, preliminary tests indicated that Aideen was suffering from an exceptionally rare soft-tissue sarcoma. We were informed that metastasis of this cancer would probably be fatal. Despite her deteriorating health and her resignation as a Health Visitor on 31 August 2021, Aideen’s commitment to children’s and mother’s health remained undimmed. Equipped with her lap-top, she completed from her sick-bed a module of the RAMSR (Rhythm and Movement for Self-Regulation) course at the Centre for Child and Family Studies at Queensland University of Technology. Our nieces formed the focus of her studies.

Aideen Cooney succumbed to Leiomyosarcoma on 30 May 2023 in her own home surrounded by her family on a wonderfully sunny day as the leaf-laden branches brushed against our bedroom window.

(Dr) Peter Smith