With almost 23,000 views and counting - a photograph of well-known Derry character Sheila Brennan continues to soar since it was put online last Thursday evening, making it the most popular photo ever posted on the ‘Derry Journal’ Facebook site.
“A Derry legend” seems to be the consensus when recalling Sheila Brennan, her sidekick Sammy and their little dog - all of whom were once familiar sights in the city centre.
The photograph, which ran in last Friday’s edition, was published as part of the ‘Journal’s regular BT Portrait of a City feature and was taken in the 1980s by local photo initiative Cameraworks Darkroom Derry. Within hours of posting it online, the photo had drawn much reminiscence and kind comments from local people, friends, relatives and even Sheila’s own grandchildren who took the time to comment and recall this much-admired lady.
“OMG! That’s my grandmother, I’m copying this for her daughter,” posted Catherine Ann Maher, followed by comments from Sheila’s nieces, Denise and Kelly Geddis, Margie McNutt and Danielle Donnell
“My aunty has passed away a long time ago, but to hear all the peoples lives she has touched it really is special, thanks. It’s heartwarming folks,” wrote Denise Geddis. “My auntie Sheila, such a darlin I loved her soo much xxx,” added Margie McNutt, and “My great auntie, RIP x” said Aoife McLaughlin.
Poster Clare Davenport also recalls a generous woman. “What a character - I remember my mammy giving her 10p and she reached into her pocket and handed me 20p to get myself some sweets. RIP x”
A particularly poignant memory was recalled by local woman Bridgene Temple, evoking much response. “I remember having my newborn baby in a pram in William Street when Sheila came over and asked me for money,” she wrote, “I gave her £1 and she looked into the pram, spoke to the baby and put the £1 in beside the child. I almost cried and will never forget her kindness.”
“Oh my god this is one of the nicest things I have ever read on FB,” wrote Laura Schmid in response to Ms Temple’s comments.
“A lovely, respectful and funny lady” says Maura Farren from, while Clare Brown recalls a funny moment: “I remember there was a big crowd outside Chata Fashions and said it mother come on down to see, and it was wee Sheila in the window display wearing a wig and all. So funny. God love her, did no harm to anyone. x”
Another poster suggests a local memorial might be popular. “Someone should put a statue up of her, Sammy and the wee dog. I’m sure the people of Derry would chip in,” says Ann Jacqui Carpenter.
Local man Damien Doherty described “a true character of the streets of Derry, sadly missed, always had time for her,” while Leonard Borrow said: “wee legend... a very funny wee woman.”
Vanessa Postle added a word of encouragement to all: “I remember Sheila and Sammy and Pops. Great hearts. We need to help those today who find themselves in need.”
“A face full of stories,” wrote Orlaith Parkhill, “brings back memories of a totally different Derry... better/worse, who knows!”
Realtan O’Domhnaill added: “Sheila was standing in her usual spot and my mum gave her 50p. Sheila told my mum to wait there so she could go and get her change! Bless!” And Linda McCafferty quipped, “God this woman is well loved, she’s probably having a right laugh at us now. God bless.”
Just as this story was nearing completion yesterday, Sheila Brennan’s niece Denise Geddis rang the ‘Journal’ office to speak of the pride she felt in her aunt and give some background detail to the Brennan’s. According to Denise, Sheila and 12 siblings - including her own mother, Frances - grew up in Springtown Camp in Derry. Sadly, the two sisters suffered the same chronic illness.
“I’d be very interested to hear any stories about my own mother, Frances Brennan, too,” Denise said yesterday. “Her and Sheila were always very similar. My mother was actually the first woman speaker for the AA in Derry and when she died, AA members who had stayed off drink for 30 years because my mum was their sponsor, all came to her wake. She saved a lot of people, but couldn’t save herself.”
Speaking of the photo that has sparked so much nostalgia locally, Denise said: “It’s overwhelming to be honest, I can’t get my head around it! To me, I just saw my auntie Sheila, I never knew about the people she met or the lives she touched. It’s amazing and I’m just bursting with pride.”
Jim Collins, archivist with the BT Portrait of a City Project, said of the public response: “I’m not surprised. Someone like Sheila Brennan is part of the fabric of this city and as much a part of cultural life here as any... It’s important, particularly this year, that we look at culture in all its complexities, and although Sheila will never be recalled in history books, she’ll be remembered - and remembered fondly - by many people in Derry.”