GAA Football

'Kneel and say ‘Ave' there for me'. Mother Attracta, the nun behind the success of Mayobridge

Mother Attracta, who arrived in Mayobridge in 1960 and was buried in the county Down village on Saturday, was a pillar in the community. Picture: Brendan Monaghan
Andy Watters

“It brings me great joy to know that when my earthly work is done, I will be laid to rest in my beloved Mayobridge among the people I have loved and served for most of my life.

As the song goes: ‘And if you come when all the flowers are dying,

And I am dead, as dead I well may be,

You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,

And kneel and say ‘Ave’ there for me.’

This is my consolation.”

Mother Attracta writing in the Mayobridge History Book in 2013

THE growth and continued success of Mayobridge GAC can be traced back to the influence and dedication of Sister Attracta Devlin, known to all who had the pleasure of knowing her as ‘Mother Attracta’, who passed away on Thursday aged 86.

Originally from the Clonduff area, Mother Attracta joined the Poor Clare Convent in Mayobridge in 1960 and spent the ensuing 60 years at the heart of the community in the county Down village.

The convent closed its doors in 2010 but even though Mother Attracta and the other four nuns transferred to Newry she retained her links to the community and her interest in the club.

“She was an avid fan and a big figure in the community, she brought everybody together and everyone had a good word about her,” explained Mayobridge chairman Thomas O’Hare.

“She set up the school-club links and when I was at primary school, if there was a school game the whole school went to it. She was a great supporter of Mayobridge and Down.”

Mother Attracta was appointed principal of St Patrick’s Primary School in 1973. As the population of Mayobridge steadily increased over the coming years she successfully lobbied and sourced funding for the present school building and Gaelic Games were always an integral part of the curriculum.

“When she took over the primary school, we had nothing here and she was a big driving force in getting the new school,” Thomas explained.

“The club had hard times in the 1970s and ’80s but there was a massive influx of houses in the area and the new school of course helped the football club and camogie club and we have a massive club here now.

“She was a big driving force in school football for years and that’s where it all started. We had a lot of good coaches in the club and the club always had a big say about getting into the school to coach, even during school time.

“In 1990, 1992 and 1993 the primary school won the Ulster McGreevy Cup and players from those three teams went on to win eight senior championships with the club.”

Mayobridge ended an 80-year drought by winning the Down senior title in 1999 and seven more championships followed including a five in-a-row between 2004 and 2008. Former pupils of ‘Mother Attracta’ including Mickey Linden, Benny Coulter, Mickey Walsh, Declan Rooney, Noel Sexton, Ronan Murtagh, Conor Garvey, Ronan Sexton, Cathal Magee and Gavin and Marty Barry were central to those successes.

She was also a passionate fan of Down throughout her years and Thomas recalled how his father Tom O’Hare, an All-Ireland winner with the Mourne county in 1968, was invited to the convent after that success.

“She was very proud of Mickey Linden (1991 and 1994 All-Ireland winner) as well,” he said.

“She would always have been encouraging young lads and girls to get involved in sport, especially the club.”

Because of social distancing regulations, numbers were limited at Mother Attracta’s funeral on Saturday but Mayobridge hope to bring the community together in a celebration of her extraordinary life at some point in the future.

“It was sad yesterday because she didn’t get the send-off she deserved,” said Thomas.

“It would have been like a state funeral in Mayobridge in normal circumstances. It was very poignant because there was only her immediate family and a few of us had to patrol outside to make sure only about 20 people got into the chapel.

“We watched it online and it was very moving and intimate. I don’t think she would have wanted the fuss of 1,000 people in the chapel and then maybe another 1000 outside. She was an inspirational person and the likes of Mickey Linden, daddy and Benny Coulter would all say the same.

“We will have a big celebration of her life when all this is over.”

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