It’s a fair measure of a person when, no matter who you meet, they smile and say the same thing - “she was a class act”.
This week as her husband Michael, her son Kevin and daughter Rosa, her parents John and Florrie, brothers Richard, Aiden and Stephen, sister Anya and so many others, friends and relations, try to come to terms with the death at 55 years of age of Josephine Murphy, Revlin, Donegal town, they can at least be consoled by that very fact: Josephine was a class act, and much more.
There’s a long queue of people both willing and well qualified to tell you about Josephine, teachers, school staff, pupils, friends from her days in St Columba’s Comprehensive in Glenties and the national schools she taught in, in South Donegal.
You could go back much further, to the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Ballyshannon where Josephine was a boarder and caught the eye of a young lad from Ballintra, himself a student at De La Salle College in Ballyshannon.
He spotted her on the bus on her way home to Florrie and John and that eagle-eyed DLS man, Michael Devaney, never let her out of his sights. Her daughter Rosa recalls hearing stories of how the young couple went to a Thin Lizzy concert in Strandhill on Easter Sunday, 6th April, 1980, as friends and “the rest is history”. Summer days spent working in Robinson’s of Rossnowlagh galvanised the relationship and saw their affection grow and marriage of these two childhood sweethearts was inevitable.
Josephine’s early school days were spent happily at Scoil Aodh Rua in Donegal Town and she flourished in the Sacred Heart Secondary School. She could put her hand to anything, a career as a Home Economics teacher was no surprise, but there are those who still bookmark her role in a production of The Mikado, as a highlight of her school days in the Erne town.
Onto third level and she graduated in due course from St Angela’s College in Sligo, as a Home Economics teacher and after brief stints here and there, she secured a full time post in St Columba’s Comprehensive in Glenties, working there for many busy but happy years. She was just 22 when she started.
Her time there was punctuated by hard work, great success and shared learning for those under her guidance; there was also those memorable trips to and from Glenties through rain, hail or snow in the company of colleagues such as Manus Brennan, Pauline McGroary and Ronnie Callaghan. Never a dull moment in that car, as long as she didn’t get left behind in Glenties as occasionally happened!
While at work one evening in Glenties where she was preparing food for the many attending the September 1998 local film premier of Dancing at Lughanasa featuring Meryl Streep, she slipped and fell. But typical of Josephine she made light of her injury and continued working on as guests had to be looked after.
As Fr Willie Peoples explained to the congregation at her recent Requiem Mass, her attitude was the ‘show must go on’ - and it was only a day later she would discover that she had sustained a back injury which caused her to take a break from her much loved teaching.
Typical of her spirit, she recovered from that set back and opened a new door some years later.
She took on the Hibernia Course to allow her teach at National School level and graduated in 2008. She worked in learning support and resource teaching, in various schools in south Donegal including St Ernan’s N.S. Ballintra, St. Eunan’s N.S. Laghey, St. Mary’s Pettigo, Robertson N.S. Ballintra, St Francis National School, Barnes and Holy Family, Ballyshannon among others.
Many have remarked that she really found her niche in this work and she was regarded by all as a superb educator, much like her mother Florrie who taught for a lifetime in Scoil Aodh Rua agus Nuala.
Florrie's influence and huge contribution to the family was underlined by many things, but Josephine and the family always delighted in the fact that Florrie briefly taught Kevin for the first three months of his school life .
Again, a queue forms made up of those who experienced first hand her uncanny ability to make the lives of others better.
It is a recurring theme when you flick through the pages of this life well lived. Many remembered her fondly since her untimely passing on April 15th in North West Hospice where she was superbly cared for. They all knew a teacher, a daughter, a mother, a friend, who loved to live, who loved to be with people, who gave of herself, and who stoically, quietly, carried the burden of cancer when it came to her door.
Behind the smile and the happy aura, there was a steel to her - an inner strength. She was strong of mind and body too and she was always there for her friends, an open door, and more importantly perhaps an open mind, chatty by all means, but a great listener too, never one to judge.
She never tired of the simple things in life, a flower in bloom, the genius of a crafter’s hand, perfecting her passion for needlework or learning a new crochet stitch. She rejoiced in the little things. She could and would make her own clothes, she could turn last year’s out of date flared look into high fashion for the new season, she was on trend long before the phrase was invented. Deadly with a bottle of dye, it’s many a jumpsuit was reinvented.
She remembered birthdays often sending birthday cards and making presents for family and friends both near and far.
Pure genius in the kitchen, and that long before any formal teaching in Clogherevagh, she could cook for kings and queens, but cared not who took the plate she handed them, as long as they enjoyed it.
She loved walking, a group of friends evolved and a common interest shared with her husband Michael saw her regularly out and about on various trails. When illness struck her ‘Walking Women’ friends were a citadel of friends for her, she was never alone. The group were much more than a walking group and ever ready to have fun and good craic.
Josephine was always planning/looking forward to the next party from Murder Mystery Parties, Come Dine with me, family events or nights of fun with friends.
Early summers were spent in the family mobile home in Rossnowlagh, punctuated by great gatherings of the Gallaghers including cousins from Longford and California. The Devaney mobile home in Enniscrone was another place of great gatherings where Josephine was known for her minestrone soup and chicken en croûte.
She loved holidays, any time there was a break from school and money in the bank, Mick and Josie would be booking holidays, especially to the sun having many fond memories with family and friends.
Summers were spent in the family mobile home in Rossnowlagh, punctuated by great gatherings of the Gallaghers and cousins from Longford and California.
She loved holidays, new places, just to travel, the sun on her back, being there with family and friends. As years went on she travelled extensively, among her trips, regular visits to her daughter Rosa in Singapore.
She loved her football too, GAA and Donegal, hardly surprising that considering her Dad John ‘Spud’ Murphy’s passion for the green and gold.
Even when illness knocked harder and harder at her door in the past year she was never held back by it. It would never define her day, she fought valiantly for more than a year and life was full, as her daughter Rosa reflected this week, she lived every moment that she could.
But when she had fought the good fight, her community, her friends and above all else her family were with her, and they came in droves to her wake at Revlin. That old Ballyshannon saying, familiar to her dad John is apt here - ‘the house never cooled’.
So too at her Requiem Mass at St Patrick’s Church, Donegal town where Fr Willie Peoples PP was the principal celebrant, assisted by Fr Francis McLoone, PP Killymard, Fr Danny McBrearty, CC Clar, Fr Herbie Bromley OMI, Ballyshannon and Fr Joe O’Donnell, PP, Drumholm. The music for the funeral was exceptional, sang by close friends and family members, they all did their part to ‘lift the roof off the church’
Cremation followed afterwards in the Lakelands Crematorium Cavan where family and close friends paid moving tributes to Josephine Murphy Devaney, celebrating a life well lived - recognising her for what she was - a class act.
* Josephine’s Month’s Mind will be at 7.30pm Friday, May 18th, in St Patrick’s Church, Donegal Town.