On the 2017 commemoration of International Women’s Day, the Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque for Emma Duffin at her former University Square home in south Belfast.
Duffin was best known for her work as a nurse and was a grandaughter of United Irishman, doctor, radical, author and poet William Drennan.
Born on 8th November 1883, she was a daughter of Adam and Maria Duffin of 26 University Square, Belfast. Her father was a stockbroker and businessman and served in the first government of Northern Ireland as a Senator before his death in 1924.
Emma’s was educated by a governess and several German Frauleins. At 16, she then studied at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Gloucestershire, England and Churchill College, Shrewsbury, England.
After this, as a keen artist she attended Belfast Art College and illustrated children’s’ books and poetry anthologies.
In 1911, Emma spent a year working as a Governess in Pomerania, Germany where she learnt fluent German.
During the Great War, she enlisted as a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment. She served in Alexandria, Egypt for six months in 1915-16 and then for two years on the Western Front at military hospitals in Le Havre and Calais, France.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Duffin became a Commandant of the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Belfast. She managed 100 volunteer nurses based at Stranmillis Military Hospital, Belfast. She kept a diary during this time and recorded in detail the events and aftermath of the Belfast Blitz in April and May 1941.
After spending her later years at the family home in Newcastle, County Down, she died on 31 January 1979, aged 95 years old.
Her grave is in St. Colman’s Cemetery, Newcastle, Co. Down next to her sisters Dorothea, Sylvia, and Celia.