by Kevin P. Oldham
World Health Organisation surveys carried out in recent years on longevity reveal that people generally are living longer, and the number of centenarians continues to increase. Whenever people in Ireland reach their hundredth birthday, part of the price they pay for collecting the President’s monetary award is to say exactly what it was that kept them alive so long. This is a good idea but it doesn’t always come up with the best answers.
The best answer is the answer the newspaper gives when it publishes the centenarian’s photograph. The man or woman with one hundred candles on their cake is nearly always of thin build. No doubt there are exceptions (my own aunt, who weighed around 13st lived to be 101) but it does seem that the people with the fewest rolls of flesh under their chins are the most likely to reach the magic 100.
This theory was borne out when R.T.É.’s “Nationwide” programme which spotlighted a man who is believed to be the world’s oldest priest. He was Archdeacon Patrick Lyons (certainly no heavyweight), who was born on St Patrick’s Day, 1893, and who celebrated with the Bishop of Limerick a special Mass to celebrate the occasion of his 105th birthday. It was his 15,000th Mass said during his priesthood.
Father Lyons was ordained in 1920, and while studying for the priesthood at Maynooth College, heard the sounds of battle of the 1916 Rising.
They say that if one hopes to reach a ripe old age with the possibility of scoring the century, one should go to live in Co. Limerick.
A life of almost uninterrupted health, was the boast of David Lacey, at the age of 112, before he died in 1759 in Limerick city. In 1777, at Glin, on the Shannon, was living a 120-year-old man named Kelly, which, tradition claims, was “so upright and strong in the limbs as to walk several miles daily”.
A Shannon side historian in the early nineteeth century claimed that the women of Limerick live longer than most.
Margaret Doyle was 110 when she died at Fedamore in 1779, and this achievement wasn’t hereditary, for both her parents died in their early sixties. A contemporary writer said: “Her eyesight is so good that she is employed in knitting. She is so lively that she danced at the wedding of one of her great-grandchildren”.
As this article was being compiled, a popular magazine ran a story and picture about Bridget Dirrane of Aran who died recently. She was born in 1894. Bridget remembered serving tea to Padraic Pearse in Aran, also her first job outside Aran, in Tuam. She also recalled joining Cumann na mBan in Tipperary; going on hunger strike in Mountjoy Prison, and helping to nurse the Mulcahy family, including the former noted heart consultant, Dr. Risteard, son of Dick Mulcahy, T.D.
Katherine Fitzgerald, wife of the 12th Earl of Desmond, is said to have been 140-years-old when she died in 1601 at Inchquin Castle, near Youghal, Co. Cork. This is, according to the “Itinerary of Foynes Morrison, which appeared in 1617.
Even in later years, according to Morrison, the Countess had been able to walk to the nearest market town (three miles away) once a week.
A report some time ago from the U.S. lists over 300 genuine centenarians resident there, a large number of whom are still remarkably active and mentally alert. Instead of “throwing in the towel” where living is concerned, many of them still take a pride in their physical appearance, look forward to the future, and, remarkably, some are still in employment.
Among them are; an Arizonian ranch manager, an artist, still capturing landscapes on his canvasses, an assistant in a sweet shop, and another who writes nature tales for a magazine.
The oldest man in the world has been variously claimed to be a Turk aged 153, an Iranian, 160; a Chinese, 250; and a Russian, 145. Regarding these incredible ages, a writer states: “Such people seem to live only in countries where the registration of births in the eighteenth century was carried out, if at all, in a very haphazard manner, but there is no doubt about the 1966 contender, Frenchman Jeanne Calment, said to be the oldest man in the world at 121 years.
Included in a list of 100-plus year-old Irish people during the nineteeth century, were Mary Skinner, whose death notice appeared in the “Limerick Chronicle” of March, 1891. She was 108 and was reputed to be “the best knitter in Newport”. Other Limerick centenarians included; a Mrs. Arthur (108); Conor O’Brien (105); John Garrer (106); Patrick MacNamara, who remembered Emmet’s Insurrection (107); Tony O’Brien (110), and Cornelius Madigan (117).
Incidentally, according to Ireland’s Department of Social Welfare, their present day records include the names of five 100-plus year-old claimants.
Concerning longevity, a doctor explained: “Fat weighs you down. Fat is alive so it needs blood to bring it oxygen. That means numerous more blood vessels are needed to irrigate the vast areas of fat with the life-giving blood. So, the total distance the blood has to travel is increased. When the pressure rises, it throws increased strain on the heart.” A heart that was built to carry 10 stones won’t be happy carrying 15st just as the engine of a mini-car wouldn’t be happy in a heavy earth mover, he said. So, if you want to give your heart a chance to keep ticking over merrily, don’t give it too heavy a load.
Sometimes centenarians say that they attributed their long life to hard work. There well may be considerable truth in that. Exercise keeps you healthy, the doctor went on. Apart from keeping you physically fit in the athletic sense, exercise helps your heart to stay young, and it also helps to keep your arteries supple. “But be advised,” he warned, it must be regular exercise. There is no point at all in sitting for 50 weeks of the year in front of the TV, and then running up and down the beach every day of your summer holiday. Nor is there much point in taking exercise at the weekend. It must be daily exercise.”Finally, the doctor said, as a means of keeping weight down exercise isn’t much use. It does, of course, burn up some calories. There is always the danger that you would come back from your walk so ravenous that you eat twice your normal supper.
So, if you take regular exercise and keep an eye on your feed intake, you might get the President’s monetary award yet.