Devlin, Edith Florence Newman (1926–2012), lecturer in English, was born on 21 September 1926, in Swords, Co. Dublin, the youngest among three sons and two daughters of Hugh Gaw and Eva Gaw (née Newman). Her mother was a teacher in a Church of Ireland primary school, and her father, who had been a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, took up a position as gatekeeper in St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin; when Edith was two months old, the family moved into the gatelodge there. St Patrick's Hospital, established by a bequest from Jonathan Swift (qv), is a psychiatric institution, and access had to be strictly regulated. Although her father felt that the modestly-paid position was beneath him, it apparently suited (or perhaps exacerbated) his somewhat domineering personality. The family suffered very greatly after the death of their mother from cancer, just before Edith's fifth birthday; thereafter there was little comfort at home, and as a 'poor protestant', with mostly even poorer catholic neighbours, she had few friends.
She learned to read before she went to school, and thereafter as she noted, was never quite alone again. Books and literature enabled her escape, and she enjoyed school, first in the local Church of Ireland national school and then from 1937 in the Diocesan School for Girls on Adelaide Road. She went to Alexandra College in Milltown on a scholarship, and then studied modern languages and English in TCD. In 1948 she graduated with a first class degree in English and French and was awarded the Leroy Stein exhibition and the vice-chancellor's prize for prose composition. A year earlier, she had won the Littledale prize, which was awarded the following year to David Douglas ('Peter') Devlin. Edith married Devlin three years after graduation, and the couple went to live in England where he lectured at Leeds and Oxford. She spent some time in France, where she started work on a postgraduate degree, but did not complete it, as she encountered difficulties with her supervisor in the University of the Sorbonne in Paris.
After a period in Glasgow the couple moved to Belfast in 1961, where Peter Devlin took up a lectureship in the English department at QUB, and later became a professor of English literature. Edith Devlin became a tutor in the French department.
In a period when women were not often promoted to senior posts in universities, and when married couples in one department were unusual and not particularly approved of by administrators, Edith Devlin was surprised to be asked to become a tutor in the English department. She was later a lecturer, popular with undergraduates, and in 1969, began teaching short courses on various aspects of English and foreign literature in the university's extramural department. It was in this role that Devlin's reputation grew and grew: for forty-three years, throughout the Troubles and long after, her extramural courses were always over-subscribed and were said to have the largest audiences for such courses anywhere in Britain or Ireland. Buses were organised to bring in her students from all over Ulster; several travelled from Dublin and even from Sligo to her Wednesday morning lectures, which eventually had to be held in the biggest lecture theatres available, even in the Whitla hall. Each year Devlin changed her subject matter, always stressing the relevance of literature to the realities of life, as she herself had experienced it in her youth, and inspiring audiences with her depth of knowledge and the warmth of her responses.
In 2000 Edith Newman Devlin published Speaking volumes: a Dublin childhood, a book which combined her response to several classic works of English literature with her memories of growing up motherless in Dublin, and with descriptions of what life was like in the 1930s and 1940s for an often forgotten stratum of Irish society – working-class protestant Dublin. Her difficult relationship with her father is explored, but Devlin, even in adulthood, was unable to understand his personality, and throughout her life regretted that he had been unable to help her to remember her mother.
In conjunction with the department of extramural studies (which went under different names over the years), Devlin, always energetic and engaged with both her subject and her students, organised literary pilgrimages for her students, visiting European and even Middle Eastern and African countries to explore the contexts in which novels and poetry had been produced. She retired from her lectureship in the department of English, but not from her weekday lecturing; her last course was given just weeks before she died on 2 July 2012.
Devlin was awarded an MA by TCD (1954), an MBE (1988), and an honorary D.Litt. from QUB (1993). She was survived by her husband, two sons and a daughter. Her funeral took place in St George's parish church, Belfast, and she was cremated.