Bridget O’Lynn, who passed away peacefully at her home at Ballygally, County Antrim in her 93rd year, was a recipient of the Irish People of the Year Award in 1981 for her tireless efforts to look after blind and disabled family members as well as donating a kidney to her sister.
The awards acknowledge the goodness and strength of people and communities across Ireland. Other winners of the award have included boxer Barry McGuigan, broadcaster Gay Byrne, politician John Hume and singer Bob Geldof as well as numerous individuals such as Bridget who have been quiet heroes to those around them.
A woman who epitomised Christian charity and concern, she received her award in recognition of her devotion to blind and disabled members of her family and particularly her sister Nora, to whom she donated a kidney.
When a newspaper reporter asked her about the decision to donate one of her kidneys, after tests had identified her as a suitable donor, she said: “She needed a kidney, I had two, so that’s all there was to it.”
“I’d never had an operation before, so I thought it would be horrible, but it wasn’t so bad. I was in bed a day or two and home after ten days. I just had to get back on my feet, you see.
“My sister had cared for the family while I was in hospital and she stayed on for a full week to help me. I had to crawl around as best as I could after that, I must admit that I felt very weak and weary and worn out, but I coped,” she said at the time.
Her sister Nora came through the operation well and the transplant was successful. Bridget was one of 10 children of Patrick and Grace Magill and was born on June 21, 1926, at The Dairy, Kilwaughter.
She recalled that her childhood years were not easy ones, the family was poor and she said she learned to know what it was like not to know where the next bite was coming from.
“It was a cruel life and our teenage years were tough and hard too. There was no money for anything,” she said in a 1980s interview.
The family included four siblings who suffered from blindness and Bardet Biedl Syndrome, a genetic disorder which affects many body systems and she would make it her mission when the time came to selflessly look after them.
As a child she attended primary school at Ballygowan and held a few jobs in Larne after leaving school, but then moved to work in England, taking up position as head waitress in Walton Heath Golf Club, where she spent happy years and was able to bring other girls from Larne to work with her.
“It was the first time I knew what it was to go out and buy myself something. The social life was lovely too and I met some wonderful people, some funny people, I learned a lot too. I came to terms with myself and life and was able to understand it all then,” she would later reflect.
While at the Walton Heath Golf Club, the Larne woman met Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Douglas Bader and Donald Campbell among others. On one occasion Bing Crosby sang the chorus of An Irish Lullaby just for her in a crowded dining-room, while a smiling Bob Hope looked on. Bridget was not star struck by those she met at the club, however; her purpose for being there was part of a longer term plan for the Magill family siblings who could not look after themselves. Bridget had identified that she would have at some stage to look after her disabled siblings and she used the employment in England to save towards buying a house where they could all live eventually.
“There was nothing here then, no jobs really and no chance of getting anywhere. I knew that I would need money to buy a suitable house for the family so I decided to go and work in England to raise this,” she said.
She subsequently returned home to Larne to buy a cottage, moving the family from their rented property, and taking care of the four of her siblings who suffered from Bardet Biedl Syndrome and blindness.
While in England Bridget had met Patrick O’Lynn, whom she had known since she’d been a teenager, and who, like her, had crossed the Irish Sea to get work. The couple became serious about each other and Pat, who came from a big family, was sympathetic to her plans to look after her siblings.
He arrived home from England just before Bridget returned to Larne and the couple were subsequently married and would have three children, Paul, Kieran and Grace; the last just before her 45th birthday.
It displays amazing resilience and strength of character that Bridget would look after her own young family as well as her elderly mother, her three blind sisters Susie, Nora and Claire and her blind brother Barney.
And in 1978 there was a further blow when Pat suffered a heart attack, followed by a stroke. Epilepsy proved also to be a consequence of the stroke and his condition meant he could not work.
As time went on the family had to move; the first cottage bought with her emigrant’s wages was isolated, was not on a bus route and had no electricity and poor water supply. Bridget moved to a larger, three-storey house, but eventually the stairs proved a problem for the aging disabled family and she successfully lobbied the Department of Health and Social Services minister Lord Melchett to assist with the building of a bungalow which would keep the family together and in the community.
In addition to looking after her own family, Bridget O’Lynn found time to campaign and raise money for the Belfast City Hospital and NI Kidney Research. She also raised something equally as important, the awareness of the importance of people carrying donor cards.
A devoutly religious lady, she admitted to leaning on God when necessary. Prayer played an important part in her daily life and she brought up her family to pray each evening and say the Rosary together. Mrs. O’Lynn, who was predeceased by her husband Pat, lived out the remainder of her life at Ballygally, where she passed away on February 7, surrounded by her family.
Her funeral service took place at St. Joseph’ Church, Ballygally, with Requiem Mass followed by interment at Feystown Cemetery in the hills above Glenarm. She is survived by her loving family; Paul, Kieran, Grace, son-in-law Myles, grandchildren Jessica and Ethan and extended family Kerry, Stephen, Caitriona and Christopher.