‘devil a mortal’

Billy, in his youthful days, was the best hand at doing nothing in all Europe; devil a mortal could come next or near him at idleness; and, in consequence of his great practice that way, you may be sure that if any man could make a fortune by it he would have done it.

It’s a part of ‘The Three wishes” by William Carleton. (Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by W.B. Yeats)

I simply can’t figure out the above ‘devil a mortal’ in terms of meaning and grammar.

Please help me.

Answer

Since Carleton (who was living Ireland in the 19th century) was presumably using Hiberno-English, the following dictionary reference may be applicable:

equivalent to a negative in such idioms as
‘devil a one’ (< Ir diabhal duine), not one,
‘devil a bit’ (< diabhal e) , not a bit

From A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English

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