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Sarah is Ireland’s oldest citizen at age of 108

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Ireland’s oldest citizen likes nothing more than a cup of tea, a chat in her native Irish and her cat Snowy beside her. Seán Ó Mainín met her at her family home in Sruthán, Carraroe and talked to her family.

“What age are you Sarah?”

The rebuff to an impertinent question is rapier-quick and razor-sharp – “200.”

For years that was Sarah Clancy’s stock answer. It could change. A bank clerk was fixed a stare by the then 90-year-old woman who replied to her question saying solemnly she was 21.

Sarah never celebrated her birthdays. But that couldn’t stop the build-up of curiosity and speculation in the neighbourhood. People couldn’t remember the world without Sarah. But who knew her age?

The State did. A letter from Áras an Uachtaráin dropped through her letterbox. Congratulations from the President and a cheque for €2,500 and a commemorative medal. Sarah was 100.

Nine times now a letter from the Aras has dropped through Sarah’s letterbox. Sarah is the oldest citizen in Ireland.

Sarah Treasa Clancy was born May 2, 1908 in Sruthán, An Cheathrú Rua, in a small house along rocky shores looking across the bay to Ros a’ Mhíl harbour.

At the same time, ten miles back the road in Ros Muc, Pádraig Pearse was scouting for a site for his cottage. It was built in 1909. The Titanic was only a gleam in owner Bruce Ismay’s eye. After it went down in 1912 the pilloried Ismay sought refuge in faraway Casla Lodge and thus became five-year-old Sarah’s neighbour.

She shares her birthday with another Connemara legend, Colm de Bhailís, who lived to 110 years. He died in 1906. But for the two year gap between their lives Sarah and Colm would have provided a living human age chain back to 1796.

A customary wish in Connemara birthdays is to say “Go maire tú aois Choilm” (may you live to Colm’s age). It might need to be amended for Sarah.

Style and glamour: Sarah in her younger days.

Style and glamour: Sarah in her younger days.

Today Sarah sits and has lie-ins at her home, with her nephew Petie Mac Donagh and wife Patricia caring for her. She only gave up walking in February of this year. She has a thick mop of hazel-coloured hair. She has a broad smile, a glint of mischief in her eye and welcomes any visitor in her native Irish language.

A century ago a young Sarah helped her mother, Mary, around the home. She had eight brothers and sisters and two grandparents, Peter and Maggie. Peter was born in 1822. She remembers helping her father Tom, draw seaweed to fertilise their land, and carrying buckets of sand to help build their new home across the road.  She also accompanied him to the bog.

They were close although she remembers him as being “ardnósach” (snobby) as he could speak English and Irish in a community that only spoke Gaelic. Apart from farming Tom had a horse and cart and made deliveries. He also bought periwinkles from locals which he sold on in Galway.

Sarah attended school in An Cheathrú Rua where English only was the language of the class. She had sprouted up and was self-conscious and uncomfortable about being taller than other pupils. She was five when Roger Casement visited her school.

Her schooling over, she worked as a “cailín aimsire” or housemaid in the local Cladhnach Lodge. Her brother Patrick was an active Republican and she remembers people coming to the house searching for him.

When Patrick was unavailable the local priest gave a message to young Sarah who put it inside her shoe and delivered it to the priest in the nearby parish of Na Mine. The latter priest was scathing of his colleague for using a young girl as a courier.

She remembers their shed being used as a detention centre for prisoners – Free Staters and suspected informers – during Aimsear na bPúicíní (the Blindfold Period). Prisoners were blindfolded so as not to identify their whereabouts. Patrick emigrated to the United States but died young at 35 from tuberculosis.

Growing up Sarah didn’t think much of marriage as an institution. It was the time when ‘cleamhnas’ or matches were made by the man simply by visiting the home of the potential bride with a bottle of whiskey.

“Níl said ag iarraidh bean ach asal” (“it’s not a woman they want but a donkey”).

She never did marry. At 30 she and her sister Anne did what almost all her family had done, emigrate to America. They lived with her sister Mary in Dorchester, Boston, but would move out with each job.

Sarah worked as a maid and cook, often in the upper class reaches of Brookline. She was shocked to find herself gaining weight in the US and cracked down on her diet and bad eating habits. She was equally meticulous about clothes and neatness which served her well in her work.

She liked shopping and she and her sister Anne took holidays to Maine each year together. Irish was always their first language which is why she retains the “Sruthán blas” to this day.

She kept in regular contact with Sruthán and secreted dollar bills in her letters. She returned to visit after five years and regularly from then on. Petie, her nephew, remembers seeing a radio for the first time ever in her hands.

She returned to Ireland in 1988 after Anne died.  She kept house and babysat a new generation of grandchildren.  She loved the children and would answer their letters to Santa.  She only gave up babysitting at 95.

She still stays at home but often goes into respite care at the local Aras Mhic Dara nursing home. The then 107-year-old’s private comment about her fellow residents was uncompromising. “They’re very old-looking.” Until this year she had refused all wheelchairs.

Today her pleasures are simple: a cup of tea (sometimes the call for such can come at five in the morning) conversation and her big white family cat, “Snowy” stretching himself out on her bed.

“Go nGnothaí Dia dhuit” (God Bless) is the farewell with a smile.

Go maire tú an dá chéad, a Sarah. May you live indeed to 200.

Connacht Tribune

All out in force to cheer home one of their own

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Fiona Murtagh…back home with her Olympic medal on Sunday. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Sitting on an airplane, mid-air from Japan en route to Dublin, Olympic bronze medallist from Moycullen, Fiona Murtagh was unsure whether anyone would be at the airport to meet her and teammates Aifric Keogh of Na Forbacha, Eimear Lambe and Emily Hegarty when they touched down.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, there was no big welcoming party planned for Dublin Airport. But Fiona need not have worried; as she strode out of airport security and into Arrivals, all her family were there to hug her.

Fiona hadn’t seen her parents Marguerite and Noel since April because of a pre-Olympic training camp in Italy; and her siblings Pádraig, Lorraine and twin Alan all turned up, too.

“Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it. It was actually really emotional, it was so lovely. I didn’t expect the full family to be there. Tears came to my eyes. I hadn’t seen mom and my dad in seven weeks,” said Fiona.

That was just the first leg of what was to be a heart-warming homecoming for a hero.

The family drove back to Galway with Fiona, who had heard “through the grapevine that there was going to be something in Bushypark”.

“But the scale of it, I didn’t expect it at all, it was incredible, it was so lovely to see everyone come out and support and see me”, she said.

Read the full story over eleven pages of coverage on the homecoming of our Olympic heroes in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Rowing heroes reunited for special day to savour

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Hero’s homecoming…Aifric Keogh with her parents Susan and Jim Keogh. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

About halfway through her homecoming on Bank Holiday Monday, Aifric Keogh spotted a very familiar face in the crowd lining the road.

It was her fellow Olympic medallist Fiona Murtagh from Moycullen, whom she’d soldiered with in Tokyo days earlier to win bronze in the Women’s Coxless Fours final.

Fiona was outside Furbo Church with her boyfriend, on the way to Pádraicín’s to meet mates. The plan was to watch Aifric’s open-top bus and cavalcade pass-by. Fiona had no intention of joining in – but she had no choice.

“When I looked down and saw Fiona, she was laughing at me, waving up. So, I made the bus stop and dragged her up there beside me,” laughed Aifric.

It meant that those turning out on the second leg of the journey from Na Forbacha to An Spidéal and back again, got two Olympic legends for the price of one!

“I made her come up with me. And then we were driving through Spiddal and we actually drove passed her aunt’s house, so her aunt and cousins and mom were outside waving up at us. It was really nice for us to be so close together here in Galway,” said Aifric.

That was just one of several special moments from a homecoming the 28-year-old rower will treasure.

Whereas Fiona came back to Conamara straight from Dublin Airport, and had a hero’s welcome in Moycullen on Sunday, Aifric stayed in Dublin on Sunday, driving down the following morning.

As she passed through Barna on the way to her parents’ house in Aill an Phréacháin in Na Forbacha, she could see flags, bunting and bonfires being prepared for her official drive-through later that evening. But what she witnessed on that journey to the home house of her parents, Jim and Susan, didn’t prepare her for the size of turnout.

“It was amazing. I didn’t know what to expect. Obviously, I was expecting some of my friends and family but seeing so many people from Spiddal, Barna and Furbo coming out along the road the whole way was just crazy,” she said.

Read the full story over eleven pages of coverage on the homecoming of our Olympic heroes in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Saw Doctors sell out – to shoot back into the charts!

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Saw Doctors...as they were in the early days (from left) Leo Moran, Pearse Doherty, John 'Turps' Burke, Davy Carton and (front) Johnny Donnelly.

It’s official – the Saw Doctors have finally sold out. Because, as of this week, it’s impossible for fans to get their hands on a copy of the Galway band’s iconic first album, remastered 30 years on from its original incarnation.

The good news is that the band are now going to do a fourth vinyl pressing of ‘If This is Rock And Roll, I Want My Old Job Back’ – but given the global renaissance in vinyl, it will be the beginning of September before they’ll be for sale.

So far, the album has sold all 1,500 copies pressed – and that has increased hopes of the band playing live again, once pandemic restrictions are eased, according to the band’s manager Ollie Jennings.

“A guy called Simon Moran is the biggest music promoter in the UK; he’s based in Manchester and he’s worked with Peter Kay in the past, who got him into the Saw Doctors.

“He has, twice in the last six months, written personal emails begging the band to tour the UK,” he says.

And that’s not some vanity project, because he knows that – the last time the Saw Docs played in the UK in 2017 – they did 20 shows that drew 30,000 fans.

“We sold out the Manchester Apollo with 4,000; we sold out two nights at Glasgow’s Barrowlands with 4,000 each night. He knows we will do the business,” says Ollie.

Up to now, the prospects of another tour seemed remote – but the success of the album has rekindled the Saw Doctors, and something magical happened when the band got together to sign the rereleased LP.

“It was a wonderful afternoon in Leo’s house in Tuam; loads of laughs and old stories; just magic – it was like being back in 1990 or 1991 again,” says Ollie.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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