Bridie Daly neé Duggan (Ballinakill, Woodford to Arlington, Massachusetts, USA)
Bridie Daly neé Duggan lives outside Boston, Massachusetts in the town of Arlington. Born in 1911, not only is she one of Ireland’s oldest emigrants but also one of the country’s oldest living citizens. Having emigrated to the US in 1929 her life has been a mix of joy tinged with tragedy. She believes however that her positive outlook on life has led to her longevity – something which has made her quite the celebrity both in her adopted home and back in her native county.
Name: Bridie Daly neé Duggan
Now living in: Arlington, Massachusetts, USA
From: Ballinakill, Woodford
Bridie Daly neé Duggan lives outside Boston, Massachusetts in the town of Arlington. Born in 1911, not only is she one of Ireland’s oldest emigrants but also one of the country’s oldest living citizens. Having emigrated to the US in 1929 her life has been a mix of joy tinged with tragedy. She believes however, that her positive outlook on life has led to her longevity – something which has made her quite the celebrity both in her adopted home and back in her native county.
I was born one of thirteen children on 13th February, 1911 in Derrynamucka in the Parish of Ballinakill near the town of Woodford in south east County Galway. Although my given name is Bridget, my parents, Thomas and Bridget Duggan called me Bridie in order to avoid confusion, as I also had an aunt and a cousin of the same name.
I attended the Wasteland School outside in Knockmoyle, Loughrea. The school was built in 1845 by the Irish Wasteland Company. As the second oldest in the family, I helped to look after my younger brothers and sisters. I worked in the fields of our homeplace and my specific job was to tend to the ducks – feeding them and making sure they were housed for the night.
In 1929, at the age of eighteen, I made the move to the USA, following in my sister Mary Teresa’s footsteps. At the time I needed an Affidavit of Support from a legal US resident in order to enter the country and this was provided by my aunt, Teresa Duggan, who has been living in Boston for some time. My brother Tom brought me to Cobh to catch the boat across the Atlantic. I was leaving for work first and foremost, but also for adventure. My parents had arranged that I would live with my aunt and my cousins in Somerville, Massachusetts. When I first arrived, my cousins also helped me to secure work as a waitress and as a nanny.
Eventually, I found a job in a rectory in Saint Joseph’s Parish in Somerville. My responsibilities were to answer the door to greet and direct visitors to whomever they were there to see. I also served meals to the priests and was responsible for running the dining room.
William John Daly, known to everyone as Bill, was originally from Cork and worked as a Longshoreman – an American term for a dock worker – when he first came to the U.S. We met at an Irish dance in Boston after being introduced by one of my waitress friends. There was a big Irish community in the area and at times it was like being in Ireland – just with more people! Bill and I went to Irish dances every week as we got to know each other.
We were married in Somerville a year later on 14 June, 1941. We had six children, four boys and two girls. Sadly, Bill died in 1960 from cancer after a short illness – the children were aged four to sixteen at what was a pretty difficult time for us all. I also have three sons, Bill, David and Gerry who tragically have gone before me.
Bill was married and had five children but unfortunately, he died young of a suspected heart attack. David was conscripted to the US army when he was eighteen and served a number of years in Vietnam. Following a visit I took to Ireland in 2015, David was sadly found dead in bed. He was buried with full military honours, alongside his father and brothers in our local cemetery. My youngest son, Gerry, died at the age of twenty-six, following a brain haemorrhage whilst driving home for lunch from his work at a law firm in North Carolina.
My other son Michael is married with one son and lives in Boston. My daughter Kathleen is married with two children and also lives in Boston, while Mary Ann is married with three children and lives in New Hampshire with her husband Bill.
I made my first trip home to Ireland by boat in 1936 and met my five year old, younger brother Kevin, for the first time on this visit. That kind of thing wouldn’t have been that unusual in those day. Kevin, himself would later emigrate to the US. In fact, myself and Bill did our best to help out anyone was coming over from Ireland, just as had been done for us. I didn’t return home again until after Bill had died, but since then, I have returned almost every two years to Galway and to Bill’s home-place in Cork. The journey by plane is so much nicer and quicker now compared with the boat I had previously taken. My trips home became a great excuse for all of our extended family to get together in Ireland and we have had some wonderful gatherings back in Woodford, which were attended by local musicians, singers and of course, my cousin Michael Rafferty, an all-Ireland champion lilter. Our family in Ireland, Galway and Cork have been wonderful to us over all these years… Always kind, welcoming and generous to ‘The Yanks’, as they affectionately call us.
When I’m back in Galway, I like to have a good look around the Ballinakill area and remember the various families and homesteads of the parish. I usually also pay a visit to St. Joseph’s Church, where I was christened all those years ago. I’m always sure as well to stock up on my favourite Lyon’s Tea to bring back with me!
In 2011, I was awarded a number of accolades after turning 100 years old. I received a letter and a silver medal from President Mary McAleese. I was also proud and delighted to receive a letter from the US President Barack Obama and First Lady, Michelle Obama. When I turned 100 years old, Aer Lingus refused to carry me as a passenger as their booking system didn’t allow for passengers aged over 99 years! Not be deterred, I opted for a long-haul flight with many stop-overs with a rival airline. Eventually Aer Lingus saw sense though I now fly again with the carrier.
At this stage, I have returned home more times than I can remember. I hit the headlines in local papers and was also interviewed by TG4 when I made a visit home in 2017 for my 106th birthday. Management at Shannon Airport kindly gave me a wonderful greeting and send off in the Presidential Suite while waiting to board, and the Jameson Distillers in Cork gave me a tour of the distillery, treated me to lunch and presented me with a rare bottle of whiskey. I was certainly treated like a queen on that visit, but couldn’t believe the fuss that was being made over me. President Michael D. Higgins also sent a letter and a commemorative medallion to add to my expanding collection of honours!
I believe myself to be a happy and contented person. I am still very active and independent – I regularly attend mass, I go to Irish events and I get my hair done every week. I also enjoy a small drop of whiskey now and again! People often ask me what the key to my longevity is and I tell them to live and enjoy every day and that I pray every day for good health – so God must be listening! My advice is to never despair and to live in hope.