29 Jun 2022

A whole town celebrates as Bridie Byrne marks milestone 100th birthday

Bridie remembers a time when phones only worked between 8am and 8pm

A whole town celebrates as Bridie Byrne marks milestone 100th birthday

Bridie Byrne

Bridie Byrne was born in Gortnasillagh on March 2, 1922 and can recall paying 4 pence into the dance hall in Kilraine decades ago. Celebrating her 100th birthday today, Wednesday, Bridie recalls the dances fondly and can even recall who the better dancers were. 

As a young girl, Bridie, whose family moved to Mullantiboyle, can recall running to Mass and attending The Children of Mary meeting afterwards and then making her way to the dance hall later in the evening. She would run home for the Rosary before 10.30pm when she knew her late father, Ambrose, would be ‘reaching for the beads.’

The girls began to wear the long dresses

“In 1942, the hall in Glenties opened. That was the beginning of the style. The town girls would wear long dresses and it was five shillings to get into the dance,” she said. 

Sitting in her sitting room wearing a string of pearls under a beautiful shirt - it is apparent that Bridie appreciates the importance of dressing well.

At that time Danny Sweeney, the local pharmacist owned the hall, she said. 

“It was the place everyone wanted to be,” Bridie said. 

Years later the dance hall in Glenties fell into disrepair but was soon converted into a picture hall and Bridie used to pay ‘one and four pence’ to go and enjoy films with her friends. 

Casting her mind back to her childhood Bridie has good memories but she can also remember people living in difficult conditions: “Thinking back to that time, there were families who had no water. People did live in terribly poor circumstances.” 

Worked hard

Bridie got her first job in the Post Office in Carrigans: “I used to be up before 7am when the mail car came in,” Bridie said. 

Bridie would also be asked to work in the nearby bar, at times. She worked hard to earn her money: “There was no let up during the day. Do you remember the old phones?” she says cutting the air with her finger in a half circle. The room where Bridie is holding court on the day before her birthday bursts into smiles, they recall the phone. 

“Do you remember the exchange when you called?” she asks the room - a tone of agreement filters through the room. 

“Well there weren’t many phones back then, the gardaí had one, the customs had one, the carpet market had one too and one or two other houses. These phones went off from 8pm until 8am,” the room groans - mobile phones in hand bags and pockets. 

Bridie laughs heartily: “It wasn’t like it is now.”

The black bread of the war

One of Bridie’s favourite memories of living in the border town was the ‘black bread during the war.’

“I used to cycle across the border one way and smuggle the white bread in another way,” she says laughing. She enjoyed her time in Carrigans before moving to Killybegs to work for a relation. A qualified bookkeeper, Bridie was very employable. During her time in Killybegs, Bridie caught TB and spent two years in a hospital in Belfast, as a result. 

“I went into hospital in Belfast for two years and when I came out I got a job in Johnny Boyle’s hotel in Glenties. Then I moved to McDevitts and later to the knitting factory, Kennedys,” she says. 

She enjoyed the easy manner employed in Kennedy’s and has very fond memories of her time there. 

Bridie’s brother Danny is aged 97 and it was with him that Bridie first boarded a plane to Lourdes, years ago. Her sister Molly has since departed but would be 99 years of age if she lived today, Bridie said. 

Her mother was Bridie née Dunleavy and her father was Ambrose Sweeney. She attended the national school in Glenties and later attended the secondary school where she learnt shorthand, typing and bookkeeping. She attended St Martha’s College of Agriculture and Domestic Science in Navan, County Meath. Bridie recalled a few girls from Donegal being there with her. She didn’t like the Navan-based facility and left. She later married Hugh who was a well-known taxi driver in the town. He was also a gifted blacksmith. He passed away seven years after they married. 

Bridie is held in very high regard in Ardara

Bridie is well known in Ardara where she now lives. You can mention her name on the main street and people will point you to her house where there is always a warm welcome from the centenarian who is great company. Events have been organised this week to coincide with Bridie’s birthday such is the high esteem the lovely lady is held in.  

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