1930s nurse Bea

1930s nurse Bea

Centenarian Bea’s fond memories of training as a nurse here in the 1930s

Mrs Dunphy first moved to England to work as a nurse over 80 years ago

A Sligo nurse recently celebrated her 100th birthday and is looking back on the last decade and her achievements in midwifery, helping the unemployed and even becoming Redruth Carnival Queen, writes Fiona O’Brien.

Bea Dunphy’s three daughters and two sons came together to celebrate with her and call her an ‘inspiration’. Daughter Ingrid says: “Congratulations on reaching this amazing milestone of 100 years young, you are an inspiration to us all. May you continue to enjoy health and happiness.”

Bridget Dunphy, Bea to all who know her, was born on December 3rd 1916 at Faranaharpy, Skreen, Co Sligo. Her parents, Henry & Kate Davis, were farmers and they had eight children, Bea being the second eldest.

Born on the cusp of the promise of a new and assertive Ireland, Bea’s her future life of service bears testimony to the spirit of confidence born out of 1916. Bea departed for England in 1935, aged 19, to study nursing, taking her finals in late 1939 and obtaining the coveted title of State Registered Nurse.

Redruth

She was very happy in her chosen career and enjoyed her time in England, particularly at Redruth Hospital in Cornwall, and Bridgewater, Somerset.

She became so much part of the Redruth scene that, in 1936, she overcame stiff opposition and was crowned Carnival Queen. In 1939 her sister Margaret joined her to study, the advent of World War II put any long-term plans of the two sisters on hold as the health services confronted total war.

1930s nurse Bea

Following a bout of diphtheria Bea resumed her Midwifery studies in Bristol and in 1944 became a State Registered Midwife and worked happily at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. But Bea’s heart was in Ireland and she returned in 1945 securing a midwife position in Easkey on the princely annual salary of £80, rising to £100.

She continued to serve the people of Easkey and surrounds until her retirement in 1980, and is well revered for her help and support often in difficult times.

Life was hard and poverty widespread in rural Ireland in the 40s and 50s; and Easkey parish was no exception. Bea served her patients faithfully, cycling long distances to deliver babies before she got her first car, and often in the middle of night to the light of an oil lamp or candle, and with no running water.

She still speaks proudly of the babies she delivered in difficult circumstances, when calling out the doctor was a last resort. And indeed, there are many people in the parish who still fondly remind her that they are one of her “babies”.

Bea met her future husband Joe, who had recently taken over the family farm, while lodging with Alice Dunphy in Easkey and they married in October 1949. Bea entered a new phase in her long life, combining her work as District Midwife, assisting with the running of the farm, and mother to five children.

Hard work, discipline and optimism personify her long life.

Advocates

But that was not enough. Both Bea and Joe were passionate advocates of self-help and combined with others in the Easkey Development Association to undertake practical measures to improve Easkey and counter the scourge of unemployment in the parish.

The 1960s also saw a groundswell of action to promote farmers’ rights by the National Farmers’ Association (now IFA). Bea proactively assisted her husband who was NFA County Chairman, and Chairman of the NFA Rural Development Committee.

When nine farm leaders, including Joe, maintained a 25 day winter vigil outside Government buildings in pursuit of those rights, his place “on the chairs” was taken by Bea (and the other wives) while the nine men attended NFA council meetings.

Joe passed away in 1996 but Bea still lives independently in the village with the help of family, friends and carers. She still goes to Mass regularly and attributes her longevity to keeping active, enjoying regular seaweed baths, early to bed, eating only three meals a day and keeping in touch with current affairs.

You can see her regularly taking the air up by the Rectory.

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