Monday, March 23, 2009

Breda Lewis

My brother phoned me yesterday from Ireland with the news that cancer took Breda Lewis’ life last week.

I first met Breda in Boston in about 1981 in the Black Rose. She was playing her round-back mandolin up on a stage with her husband John on the flute, son Liam on the fiddle, and daughter Patsy on the concertina. The concept of a family band fascinated me.

Little did I know how great a part Breda and her various instruments would play in my life over the next seven years. I moved to Galway and found her and Liam in regular sessions in the City and Salthill: the Brasserie, the Cottage, the Galway Arms, the Quays, The Crane. Breda always smiled a welcome, encouraged me to play and to sing, taught me new tunes, sold me her mandola. Many young, shy musicians owed Breda their start. She had a way of inspiring even the most timid and unskilled of us.

When I came back to Ireland after a year in the Middle East, she opened her Furbo house, Straidp Cottage to me. Blessings on her, she always welcomed waifs and strays: “Sure, come out and keep me and the cats company!”

Breda wasn’t always easy. “Uppity!” an American might say. And “Ornery!” She drank a lot, smoked a lot, could be outspoken and completely contrary. Stubborn as a mule. But she’d give her money to a stranger if she thought it would do him good, and somehow, despite a life that saw some heartbreak, she kept innocence alive in those unfathomable brown eyes.

I’d go to bed after playing at one of her sessions in Teac Furbo, but if the night were clear, she would get out the telescope. “Lets see what’s happening in the heavens tonight!” Early the next morning, I’d make tea and breakfast while she packed the ‘scope away: “Mighty craic with the stars and planets last night, oh, you should have seen it! Jupiter was as clear as anything… And the moon…”

We called ourselves Helles Belles when we played, just for the laugh.

When I finally left Ireland, she gave me a handmade black Aran jumper that she had knitted for me. For twenty winters it has kept the cold at bay – though the Cyprus weather hardly warrants it.

Strange, the sky is weeping today. After two days of spring sunshine, yesterday’s afternoon clouded over and a soft rain began to fall. I unpacked Breda’s jumper and pulled its heavy warmth over my head. It comforts me in the cold and through my grief.

Years have passed since I saw her: I’m sure she knows that I finally found a man, settled down, had children, but the times that I was in Ireland since, although I asked after her, and although she lived not too far from my brother’s house, I never visited.
Regrets are pointless, but I would have liked her to have met my children, and would have loved for them to have met her.

And now it’s too late. She has ‘gone on’. Winston said that her funeral in Wexford was a gathering of musicians – that many a glass was hoisted in her honour, and many a tune that she loved rang out.

Rest well, Breda. I will never forget you, and I know that I’m not alone.


  1. You must be Rachael. I was a good friend of Breda's. I think I might have met you once in Stripe Cottage. Anyways, that was a lovely piece you wrote about poor old Breda, Rachael. Thank you very much. We will all miss her greatly. All the best, Feargal

  2. Hi Rachael, this is Trev. You once gave me a KGB T-shirt (which I've since passed on to my Polish father-in-law). I've only just heard about Breda, Patsy having just found my address and sent word to me in Poland.
    Sad news... I'll miss her forever.

    Best to thee and thine,


  3. Hello,
    I don't know you but I googled Breda Lewis and found you and the post. I am with you in the loss and sadness. I too was one of those who was befriended by the entire Lewis family and remember Breda as a wit, musician, friend and seer. May she dwell with the gods and spirits she was so well acquainted with. Out into the stars and still in our hearts.

  4. Dream on my dreams, of visions grand, that life be not so bleak
    to put my thoughts on pleasant land and harmony to seek.
    To forget life's woes and all the hurt and peace contentment find
    to come to terms with tragedy and ease my state of mind.

    To leave the past and live for now so forget what one did lose
    at realize that simple things can delight and amuse.
    To forgive all those that did one wrong, though they did intrude
    to tread along the healing path of strength and fortitude.

    To walk this land with head held high and not to be downcast
    to be at one, with the world and joy to come at last.
    To forget past tribulations no more to be in pain
    nor dwell on ones malfunctions and no more to complain.

    This is my dream I share with you and thus my soul I bare
    I open up my inner-thoughts to ever whom may care.
    If not for you I would not have any dreams at all
    and with such a dream I soldier on, with care lest I should fall.

    (c) All rights reserverd

    Dedicated to my very good friend and mentor, Breda Lewis.