Drawing of Annie Scanlan by Séan O’Sullivan.
Mary O’Rourke Collection.
The youngest child of two graduates of University College Galway, Mary Lenihan’s parents were from Clare and Sligo who had met during their undergraduate studies. Her father was Patrick J Lenihan from Clare who had attended the University to study Law. Her mother was Annie Scanlan. The politics of the Scanlan family was anti-treaty. Her father's family had supported Michael Collins and the Treaty, but Mary described he father later ‘fully embraced Fianna Fáil’. By the time Mary was born both sides of the family were closely linked to Fianna Fáil.
Mary was born in Athlone in 1937, where her parents had moved. Her father a civil servant, was asked by Seán Lemass, Minister of Industry and Commerce, to set up a textile factory, which became known as Gentex.
Mary had two older brothers Brian and Patrick (known as Paddy) and a sister Anne. From the outset the Lenihans home became a political centre; her father was a town councillor and later a county councillor. Mary’s earliest memory of being politicised was when she would meet local TD, Erskine Childers, at the train station and bring him across to the house. One of her vivid memories was a visit of Eamon de Valera coming to Athlone. Being too young she was unable to stay up but unknown to the adults she spent hours listening at the sitting room door, vowing that she would in future be in the middle of political life. When she was a school girl, she was a member of the youth branch of Fianna Fáil called Macra Fáil.