Daughters remember Barney Devlin

Barney Devlin RIP

… remembered by Berenice and Marcia

Further to Val Noone’s tribute to Canberra-based teacher Barney Devlin (1944-2018) in Tinteán 6 August 2018, which was written before his funeral, Barney’s daughters Berenice and Marcia have agreed to share their eulogies to this important figure in Irish Australia. Val does not not remember being at a funeral attended by two Irish ambassadors to Australia: Ambassador Breandán Ó Caollaí was there with his wife Carmel Callan, and former ambassador Richard O’Brien travelled down from Port Macquarie. The chapel was not big enough and people were 20 deep outside, perhaps 250 in all. The following edited versions of his daughters’ speeches supply fuller details about Barney’s life and qualities.

Berenice Devlin: A great life, well lived

I wanted to introduce Dad’s funeral today because I know many of you are still feeling quite shocked by his death as we are too. He last played golf on Wednesday 13 June, he was fine. This too makes this all the more surreal. He was so well only such a short time ago.

But, as most of you know, Dad was diagnosed with cancer on 22 May this year after a series of tests to determine why his liver function had not been quite right since January. The diagnosis was of a Klatskin tumour – a cancer in the bile duct. As the medically trained among you will know, but most of you may not, the bile duct carries bile from the liver and gallbladder through the pancreas to the small intestine. Given his was not working as well as it should he was very jaundiced.

Bile duct cancer of the kind Dad had has a very poor prognosis. It is a rare and beastly cancer that cannot be cured. After consideration of the proposed surgical plan and its potential outcome, Dad decided to give it a go. It included four surgeries with the first successfully occurring a few weeks ago and the second occurring on Friday 15 June. This was a lengthy and difficult surgery, but the initial results could not have been better.

Unfortunately for Dad and probably due to the length and challenge of the surgery, an infection began within 24 hours and by Friday 22 June his condition has significantly deteriorated and he had had more than enough. I know there were many of you who wished to visit Dad recently and more so in the last week, I am sorry you didn’t get to do so.

Funeral of little fuss and some humour

Dad had a few express wishes.  He asked that he not be kept alive if his quality of life was not going to include the good things he so loved, like travel, gardening, reading, socialising and much golf. With this in mind and after watching him struggle, yet deteriorate, on Friday last week, Mum, Marcia and I made the painfully heartbreaking decision to support his wish for a dignified and peaceful death, which came on Saturday morning, just one calendar month after his diagnosis.

Last year, prior to getting ill, Dad wrote out instructions for various things which included a heading at the top that said in part; ‘What to do when I snuff it’. Included in this document was his desire not to have a funeral, mainly because Dad hated fuss and did not want to disrupt people’s lives or cause upset.  He also didn’t want people to be all maudlin about him either.

Since his diagnosis, we talked about this too and I pointed out the obvious to Dad, he would not be here, so why did he care! However, Dad was completely overwhelmed by the love and support he experienced when he was first diagnosed and was very perplexed as to how he was part of such a wide and wonderful group of friends who cared so much for and about him.

As a result Mum, Marcia and I concluded that a funeral was necessary to allow each of you an opportunity to bid him farewell. That said, the ceremony today, which will be supported by his dear friends Dennis Flannery and Ken Wardrop, will be one of little fuss and some humour, just to try to balance things out.

Angela’s commitment

Marcia and I want to recognise our Mum, Angela. We are so very proud of her and her commitment to Dad. She tried so hard to feed him up over the past few months when he struggled to eat and keep weight on, but through his final week, she showed enormous strength- more than I have ever known. Despite how heartbreaking it was to watch the love of her life fade away and struggle to survive, she sat by him. She soothed and comforted him, and she held his hand until the end and beyond.

Born in Belfast

Barney was born on 11 December 1944 in Belfast in the North of Ireland, the eldest of two sons to Bertie and Kathleen Devlin. He was baptised Bernard. The first six years of his childhood were spent in London. His father was a roof tiler who went to London in 1945 to help with the rebuilding of London after World War II. They returned to Belfast where Barney was schooled by the Christian Brothers at St Mary’s through primary and grammar (high) school. He was considered a ‘bright student’.

He loved all sport from an early age, from kicking a Gaelic football around the streets of Belfast to playing and watching his all time favourite, golf. He played hurling in his teens and soccer for Young, New South Wales in his late twenties. Then cricket for Weston Creek, well into his forties and was the first player to score 2000 runs for the club during the 1983-84 season.

While waiting for a placement at university after leaving school, Barney secured a cadetship in journalism with the Irish News in Belfast. His love of writing was evident from an early age. Barney graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Geography from Queens University in Belfast in 1965 and followed this up with a Dip Ed shortly afterwards.

Teaching career

Barney’s teaching career took him to many places starting at St Malachy’s Grammar School in Belfast in 1965, to Young High School in NSW in 1972 and 1973 and various High Schools and Colleges in Canberra. After 14 years at Stirling College and looking forward to retirement, he spent his last 5 years in Head Office. Barney is fondly remembered by many of his ex-students as an inspiring teacher with great humour.

In 1988, he secured a Fulbright teaching scholarship in the USA for a year, based in Tucson, Arizona. He and Angela had a wonderful 12 months meeting up with many of their friends and family in New York, Minnesota, Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, Washington DC and Washington State and visited almost every other state with the exception of the Carolinas and Florida.

After formally retiring, he did accept a year’s contract with the Department of Education in Darwin and again he and Angela had a wonderful time exploring almost every inch of the Northern Territory, visiting Kununurra and Broome and, being so close, took a couple of trips to Asia. Singapore was also a favourite place to visit.

Barney wasn’t a handy man, although he did own one hammer; but he was a sporting man with a love of playing soccer, cricket and of course golf; and an ongoing enjoyment of watching all sorts of sport live and on TV. Even when very ill in the last week of his life, he wanted to know whether the Giants had won at the weekend.

Marriage and migration

Barney met the love of his life, Angela, while playing hurling in 1960 and in 1961 they became ‘an item’ while at an Irish Summer School in Donegal.  Then on 15 April 1963, they married at St Teresa’s church in Belfast. In August, 1963, their first child, Damian, was born prematurely and sadly, died only hours after birth. Marcia was born in January, 1965 and Berenice in July, 1966.

In January 1972, amidst ‘The Troubles’ in the North of Ireland, Barney took up the opportunity to migrate to Australia, wanting a better life for himself, Angela and their girls. We are very grateful to Dad and his courage in bringing us as young family from Ireland to Australia, providing opportunities for Marcia and I that we probably would not have had otherwise.

In Young and then Canberra

Initially they lived in Sydney in a migrant hostel in Villawood before Barney took up a teaching post in Young, NSW. The family spent 18 months in Young where Barney taught English at Young high school. It was there that some wonderful ongoing friendships were made so he and Angela became cemented in Australia.

In 1973, they moved to Canberra, living first in Yarralumla, then Holder and finally building and settling into their home in Kambah in 1975.

Grandchildren with Barney’s characteristics

In 1991 they celebrated the first of their four grandchildren’s births with the arrival of George who was born in August. Molly followed in October of 1993. Then in July, 1996, Finn arrived followed by Aengus in July, 1998.

Each grandchild also has some of his characteristics. George was a golfer with Grandpa for a time, is someone who also does not like fuss or upset and is someone everyone loves. Finn shares his grandpa’s intellect and quirkiness. Aengus understood his Grandpa’s wit more than most and enjoys the same humour. And Molly has her Grandpa’s intolerance and does not suffer fools either. She was his only granddaughter, so special in that way. Each formed their own unique relationship with him but he loved them all the same.

Kept a diary in Irish

In retirement, with a love for language and literature, both English and Irish, Barney went back with a renewed determination to master the Irish language. He read in Irish and wrote for several Irish language magazines both in Australia and Ireland, taught classes at the Irish club for approximately 15 years and at the Irish language summer and winter schools. Who could forget some of the plays he wrote while in the Gaeltacht, including ‘Father Ted’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’?

He enjoyed books and poetry, so much so that he wrote some of his own poetry along with a couple of novels for friends in English during long camping trips and he kept a diary in Irish every day right up until the week before he died.

Apologies to those whose grammar he corrected, hardly ever letting them finish a sentence, before he launched into an explanation of why what they had said was incorrect. Woe betide anyone who used the word ‘less’ when they really should have said ‘fewer’.

Wit and humour

Barney was well known for his quick wit and great humour. He has been described by many as a warm and welcoming person but he was highly intolerant of certain things, pedantic when it came to napkins, toothpicks, grammar and manners. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, funny, witty, sarcastic, loving, loyal and held in high regard by all who knew him.

Angela and Barney celebrated 55 years of marriage this year, which is quite an achievement. His children and grandchildren were always very aware that he would not tolerate any of them ever upsetting his wife. He often said he was lucky that he had found very early in life, the love of his life, Angela. Barney said himself that he had a great life, one well lived, rich in so many ways, not least of in his loving family and friends. Slán abhaile Daidi.

An email I did not get to send to my father

Marcia Devlin

Dear Dad

Today is Thursday 21 June 2018 and the kindly doctor who is head of the Intensive Care Unit has just told us that the team in ICU will do everything they can, but that you are probably not going to make it.

Caught unaware, I did not get to send you the email I was drafting to send you before your final surgery. So now I’m reading the text of that email at your wake, trusting that you are still as big a busybody as you ever were and you are here somewhere watching and listening to us. I wanted to thank you for some things you did for me as my Dad.

The first is emigrating to Australia, leaving your culture, language, life, family and friends behind, at least partly because you knew it would be better for your children to not be in Belfast in the 1970s. You were right, but it must have been hard for you, and hard for you to watch Mum struggling with leaving her family and supports.

Thank you for looking after us in school holidays. You were a teacher and you were on holidays at the same time as us and you probably had no choice in whether or not you looked after us as Mum was working but thank you anyway. I remember you sitting in an armchair watching me play ‘Teachers and Schools’ where I was the teacher and the teddies and dolls were the students. I think it was inevitable from very early on that I would work in education.

Thank you for showing me the power of education. You were always passionate about high-quality teaching and student learning and always anxious that you had your preparation done and that high standards were maintained. All my life, your ex-students have made a point of telling me what a great teacher you were and how much you made them love learning.

Thank you for driving me to ballet and Irish dancing and netball and sitting or standing around waiting for me to finish and driving me home again. It wasn’t until I was driving Finn and Aengus to cricket and footy and whatever else every spare minute that I realised how boring it is and what a commitment you made.

Thank you for the time you took me to netball after I had my hair cut and was very worried about what the mean girls on my netball team might say about my new hairstyle. You deliberately held my hand the whole way from the car across the oval to the court I was playing on and then stood on the sideline with your arms folded, daring anyone to say anything to me about my new hairstyle, and of course no-one dared say a word with you there. I felt invincible that day because of you.

Thank you for – with Mum of course – sending me to Ireland in 1979 to dance in the World Championships of Irish Dancing and stay there on my own and go to school for six months. That experience gave me the confidence to travel and take risks and fundamentally changed my life in a very positive way.

Thank you for keeping me in touch with the Irish culture through your deep love of it, although I think we all want to forget the period where you tried to teach yourself the tin whistle about 20 years ago.

Thank you for putting up with me when I was a know-it-all teenager. Thank you for reading the combined 160,000 words of my Masters and PhD theses and finding all of the split infinitives.

Thank you for all the things you did and the sacrifices you made for the sake of my wellbeing and happiness that I don’t even know about.

Thank you for your sense of humour, which drove us all mad at home but that everyone else loved and that, on reflection, I see was a gift. And finally, thank you for giving great speeches at all our family events.

You are already painfully missed. I love you Dad.


2 thoughts on “Daughters remember Barney Devlin

  1. Nothing else to say, just beautiful words. I am so humbled to have known Barney. RIP.

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