Lives Lost to Covid-19: Breda Delaney was a talented pianist and maths whizz

The Portlaoise publican knew tragedy but loved life and was an inspirational mother

This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. You can read more of them here. If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email

Breda Delaney


Every Sunday morning Breda Delaney, a talented piano player, entertained her family when the clan gathered for breakfast at her daughter Sinéad's house in Portlaoise.

Out came the keyboard, and she always started with It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, to the delight of all, particularly her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Music of every kind was an intrinsic part of her life from her childhood in Tynagh, Co Galway, where the then Breda Keaveney and her siblings – Malachy, Regina, Maudie, Margaret, Kat, Johnny and Nan – played piano, some playing other instruments as well and two of her sisters going on to teach music.

Her parents, Annie and Patrick, were both teachers. Her father was the principal of Tynagh primary school, but when he died the family moved to Dublin, where Breda continued school at Eccles Street and went on to secretarial work before her skill at maths saw her move to work in a betting shop.

It was when she was standing in for a colleague at a branch of the bookies in Portlaoise that she met and married the love of her life, publican Michael Delaney, who ran the Welcome Inn in the town.

On a Saturday night she would often play piano for customers, hosting sing-songs, and she continued to run the pub for a time after her husband’s death at just 38.

The couple had five children: Kevin; Grellan; Michelle; Sinéad; and Orla, who died just 11 days after being born from a gastric bug.

A while after Michael’s death, Breda sold the Welcome Inn to a relative and bought another pub, the Hare and Hound, now Grellan Delaney & Sons, which she ran with her son Grellan, who came into the business when he left school.

Here, too, in the upstairs lounge, Breda held sing-songs for customers and organised all the pub quizzes, including setting the questions.

TB sufferer

Michael’s death at 38 was not Breda’s first hardship. She marked her 21st birthday in a Dublin sanatorium where she spent 18 months being treated for tuberculosis, six months of it lying flat in bed.

And aged just 15 she had her spleen removed because of a bleeding disorder, considered a rare condition at the time.

Breda’s sharpness at maths shone through in her skill at cards, and twice a week for 18 years her daughter Sinéad accompanied her to play cards with family and friends.

Wednesday nights they'd play 110 with her friends Phil Carroll, Betty Murphy, Anne Casey, and Gráinne Griffin.

On Thursday nights they would play poker at Grellan’s, surrounded by family and friends, where Breda displayed her brilliant card skills.

They continued this beloved ritual even after Breda moved into Ballard nursing home in 2018, returning to the home at midnight after her card evenings. Breda loved Ballard and the company of fellow residents, with her children and grandchildren calling in daily to see her.

She contracted Covid-19 in hospital after a fall on March 16th last year in which she broke her hip. Breda died in hospital on April 5th, 2020.

“She was our queen,” says Sinéad. “She was very witty; she’d have an answer for everything and she absolutely idolised all of us and she really cared.

“Mammy was an amazing mother and best friend to all of us, including Kathleen, who was a close friend.”

Reflecting on her personality, her daughter says “she just loved life. She was never contrary and never unhappy and she just loved the craic.”

“Mammy always said she had a great family but we were the lucky ones to have such an inspirational mother in our lives.”

Breda Delaney is survived by her four children, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.