Eva Finnegan – Glorious singing voice and devoted matriarch of large family

August 5, 2013

Eva Christina Finnegan, Ni Kelly (1916 to 2013) was born in Liverpool on June 17th 1918, five months before the armistice that ended the First World War. When her father died in 1924 from injuries he received in the war, she lived between Liverpool and her grandmother’s family premises in the townland of Carrickbracken on the foothills of Camlough Mountain.

She often sailed on her own as a child between Liverpool to Newry on goods- carrying boats and was collected when she reached Newry. Eva eventually returned permanently to Camlough with her mother Mary Catherine, brothers Martin and Tommy and sister Rita.

She possessed a superb soprano singing voice and inherited a tradition of song  from her mother who was prominent in light opera, church music and the general ballad tradition. Eva also played the piano but had to give this up following an accident in Bessbrook Mill in 1932 when she lost half of an index finger. (Compensation £50)

Her voice and love of music was encouraged by her mother and aunts and uncles who formed a family choir in Carrickcruppen chapel in the thirties and were also very much involved in the Newry Operatic Society. She recalled singing with them on various occasions for the then bishop of Dromore in his house at St Colman’s, Newry Eva also performed in plays in Newry and in Lislea with the late Eugene Hannaway.

In later times and for over thirty years she was a prominent member of the Derramore Singers based in the Bessbrook and Camlough district. Her musical memory was so astonishing that in her latter years, into her nineties, she could sing songs flawlessly from beginning to end, and recall with equal ease Latin hymns learnt and performed back in the thirties.

Eva married Tom Finnegan in 1940 and they had sixteen children and they lived at St Brigid’s Park, Maghernahealy.  She had her share of tragedy when her eldest son Jim died at 22 in 1963, her husband Tom in 1972 and her second eldest son Martin in 2000. As happened in so many large families at that time the “older ones helped to rear the younger ones” and she ensured a very strong bond between them all, instilled a respect for others, honesty, fairness, good neighbourliness and do so as much as possible with a smile. There was also the ongoing strong supporting friendship of her sisters Annette and Nora.

Mrs Finnegan’s life long devotion to the song and music tradition were acknowledged when along with other members of the Derramore choir they were invited to Aras an Uachtarain  by Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary Mc Aleese.

The song tradition was passed to her children such as the well known singer Billy Finnegan and her eldest grandson Jim. Two other grandsons were recently No I in the German rock Album charts in the group “The Plea” and many grandchildren are in bands and choirs.

While in Daisy Hill hospital in Newry five or six weeks before she died, some impulse urged her to sing a final song in the middle of the day, and began “Sweet gentle mother of mine” word perfect to the last note that stopped everything in the ward in its tracks. And so, ninety years after her first song- maybe the exact same song- she drew down the curtain on a long life well lived, on the deep thanks of family and friends and neighbours, on a life of devotion to her faith,  and drew it down in the way she knew best, a song from the heart.

She is survived by her children: Hughie, Margaret, Michael, Willie, Noel, Marie, Eva, Luke, Gerald, Brian, Annette, Sean, Bridie, and Niall, sisters Annette Quinn and Nora Greer, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sons and daughters-in-law.

Peter Makem