Ireland. Nicaragua. There is no latitude or longitude for suffering.
Early 20th century Ireland and present day Nicaragua seem years and miles apart. But the countries share remarkable similarities.
By the early 1900s, Ireland was a divided and devastated land, roiled by centuries of civil war, colonialism, governmental cronyism, foreign military intervention and natural disasters.
Hunger, illness, eviction, family break-ups and domestic violence were widespread. Ireland’s working poor suffered terribly and children were the most vulnerable victims.
Today Nicaraguan families endure the same social and economic burdens. Unable to shake a forty-year legacy of U.S.-aided governmental despotism, Nicaragua’s infrastructure remains crippled: Millions suffer hunger daily and survive without drinkable water, basic sanitation, electricity, education or job training.
Families implode and explode. Again, children suffer most.
More than 250,000 young Nicaraguans are “street children,” kids who live in abandoned buildings, shacks cardboard boxes.
Nicaraguan street children work in barrio slums, city dumps, roadside stands and brothels. Abandoned or ignored by overwhelmed, underemployed parents, these throwaway kids have every reason to be enraged, depressed and violent.
Yet visitors invariably remark on the children’s vivacity, warmth and humor.
Bridie Noone Deignan: Human spirit triumphs against all odds
The same sunny spirit enlivened an Irish orphan girl born one year after the Easter uprising that sparked Ireland’s last civil war.
Despite a brutal childhood that would have devastated a less resilient soul, Bridie Deignan today is remembered for her “sheer goodness, her wit and her generosity,” says Bridie’s daughter, theologian and musician, Kathleen Deignan.
Kathleen vividly recalls her mother’s “playfulness, her strength against all odds, her loving kindness, her ability to talk to anybody on this planet—even if they didn’t speak English—and her joy in children.”
Perhaps this is why a significant gift to Connecticut Quest for Peace CT Quest)—given by Kathleen and her sister, Ann Deignan, upon Bridie’s death in 1991— seemed the most fitting memorial to their mother. The Bridie Fund “opened up a door for us to expand our work with children in Nicaragua,” says CT Quest coordinator, Randy Klein.
Memories of lost mother led Bridie to nurture all she met
On November 7, 1917, Bridget—Bridie—Noone was born in County Roscommon, Ireland. Shaken by the Easter Uprising just a year earlier, Ireland teetered on the brink of civil war that would decimate the country 5 years later.
The fifth of six children born to subsistence farmers, Bridie suffered the greatest loss of her life just three years later when her mother died in childbirth.
Unable to care for his children, Bridie’s father committed them separately to distant homes. Bridie and her sister, Kathleen, were taken in by nuns at an orphanage several miles away in Ballyhaghhadereen. Kathleen died there soon after.
Bridie lived at the orphanage until she was 12 years old when—for reasons unclear to the child—she was abruptly sent back to her father’s home.
Long unemployed and unable to eke out a living from the hostile land, Bridie’s father could not provide for his daughter.
For five years, Bridie endured hunger, cold and untreated illness. But the heaviest burden for this warm, sensitive child was the utter loneliness and absence of affectionate care.
At age sixteen, Bridie resolved to return to the orphanage and throw herself at the mercy of the religious sisters there. Bridie walked barefoot—she didn’t own a pair of shoes—five miles to Ballyaghadereen where the sisters welcomed her warmly.
They listened to her story then hastily arranged for Bridie to work in Dublin.
After forging a new life in Dublin, this independent young woman married Patrick Deignan, moved to London and gave birth to Kathleen—named for Bridie’s beloved sister.
In 1949 Bridie and her family emmigrated to New York City where Bridie’s “outrageous love of the Big Apple,” began, says Kathleen. Soon after, Ann was born and the family settled into New York City’s Upper West Side.
Bridie lived to see Kathleen become an acclaimed musician, scholar, author and theologian. Bridie’s younger daughter, Ann, grew into a gifted poet, playwright and physician.
While Bridie lived a full and happy life, she never stopped yearning for her lost mother’s love: Her daughters remember that Bridie “always introduced herself as an orphan to each person she met.”