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brigid devlin

Brigid was born in the townland of Tullydonnell on 29 March 1913. Her baptism and birth certificates show different dates of birth. She always said that her father registered the birth in Crossmaglen on Fair Day. After a few jars in a local inn, he got both her date of birth and her name wrong. She was registered as 'Bridget' born on 9 April 1913. The correct details ("Brigid" and "29 March 1913") were entered on her baptism certificate. I now know that this was a 'slander' on old Johnny Boyle. In fact her full birth certificate shows that the birth was registered by her grandmother, Brigid Quinn, who was present at the birth. Brigid could neither read nor write and registered the birth on 10 May 1913. Brigid attended the nearby Ballynaclosha School where the teacher, Master Denis (Dinny) Lavelle, ruled with a rod of iron. He was still there, although he had mellowed somewhat by the time my sister May attended the school while staying briefly with our grandparents in the 1940s.

Brigid was highly intelligent and although her own schooling had ended at age 14 she encouraged, and supported, all of us to continue our education beyond primary level. She understood that education provided the chance for her children to build better and more fulfilling lives than that available to previous generations and she made sure that we all used that chance. She had great mental agility and was able to help us in our studies right up to the 11+ examination. We were lucky in that the 1946 Education Act made it possible for us to go on the higher education, something not available to the bulk of her generation in that time and place.

Before she married at age 21 she was in service in Belfast. She never talked about this period in her life and I never learned how she and my father met. In those days dancehalls were not common in rural areas and it was the tradition that wooden decks were erected at convenient places in summer time. There was a deck at Tullydonnell (her father wrote a song, The Deck along the Line about it) and it is possible that they met at a dance there. One can imagine the scene at such a dance - the young people gathering from miles around, in their Sunday best; the infectious music of fiddles, banjos and melodians, the soft summer dusk, the joy and delight in the jigs, reels, hornpipes and sets, the youthful romance - a welcome escape from the hard physical labour of the farm and the kitchen.

Mother wasn't a great singer but she wasn't too bad either. Her favourite singer was John McCormick but she taught us many of the traditional ballads, not exclusively Irish. A favourite was Red River Valley which I have always liked.

She was an avid reader. There was always a ready supply of books and periodicals. I suppose that most of my early reading practice came from these sources. I remember the Red Letter and the Woman's Own. Then there was the Ireland's Own that always had Irish songs and a regular feature about family Coats of Arms. The first time I saw the O'Doibilin arms I was really impressed that my humble family had such a grand symbol. When reading she became so completely absorbed that it was difficult to attract her attention. Speaking loudly was never enough, you had to tug at her clothing - sometimes quite hard. I inherited this trait as my children and grandchildren can confirm. She continued to devour books until a couple of years before she died.

She had a kind heart and although we didn't have much she never turned a beggar from the door. There was one old beggar man who came regularly and he would always get a cup of tea and bread an butter. One regular visitor was Maggie Barry, long before she was "discovered" as a folk singer. Maggie, and her husband Paddy and daughter Norah, had a caravan at the bottom of Annie McShane's hill on the Creggan-Glasdrummond Road, about 200 yards from our house at the foot of Drumbally Hill.

She loved gossip and of course in those days before television (and few had the wireless), other people's business was the main topic of conversation as far as I can recall.

She was a skilled knitter and would knit and read at the same time, with the book propped open on her knee. She knitted continuously, socks, gloves, scarves, cardigans and jerseys (gansies as they were known) in a wide variety of colours and patterns. For a while she was knitting for some firm in Belfast which brought in some welcome additional income. She continued to knit after she moved to Preston in 1971 for many years. She returned regularly to Ireland, often staying with her sister Alice O'Reilly in Crossmaglen.

In the late 1960s, Brigid and Eddie visited Anna and her family in Canada, journeying south to the United States to visit Eddie's sister Kathleen who had left Ireland about 1920.

She suffered a series of mini-strokes from 1994 onward which limited her mobility and prevented her continuing her regular visits to Crossmaglen. However, in October 1996 her great-granddaughter Claire Devlin visited her from Ireland. Although she was only four at the time Claire always remembers her visit. Unlike previous generations, Claire will have the benefit of a video record of the visit to keep her great-granny fresh in her mind and heart.

Brigid died on 2 May 1997 and is buried in Preston Cemetery with Eddie.

Dedication: "C.L.M" by John Masefield

See Also: The Boyle Connection

Selected Photographs
Brigid in 1926 school photograph
Brigid in 1938 with May and Anna in Mobane.
Brigid in Mobane with Pat and Kathleen 1940
Meeting the Yanks - 1969
At Paul Devlin's wedding - August 1991
Preston 1994
Brigid and Claire Devlin - 4 and 84 - October 1996