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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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Matriarch of Scotty’s Diner donates kidney to her son!

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A well-known family in the Galway restaurant trade have swapped chef whites for hospital gowns after the matriarch donated a kidney to her son.

Jenny and Andrew Ishmael, synonymous with Scotty’s Diner in Cúirt na Coiribe on the Headford Road in Terryland, are recovering in Beaumont Hospital after the marathon live donor operation.

It took place last Monday and staff are so impressed by the quick recovery of mother and son that they could be discharged as early as this weekend.

“It went really well. I’m still a bit sore. We’re still on the mend. It’s working perfectly,” says Andrew from the isolation ward of the hospital’s Kidney Centre.  “My creatine was over 1,000 when I came in and it’s already around 260.

“I felt weak after the surgery, but I could feel that bit of life in me again straight away. It’s amazing how quick it works. Mom wasn’t too great after the surgery – it was her first ever. She was quite sore, a bit iffy, but she’s good now.

“We have rooms back-to-back. We’ve been going for walks, going for breakfast together. It’s nice to spend that time together.”

Andrew – or Drew as he’s known to family and friends –  was diagnosed with kidney disease when he was just 16.

Berger’s Disease occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin builds up in the kidneys and results in inflammation, which over time, can hamper the kidneys’ ability to filter waste from the blood.

He managed the condition well for over a decade without too much impact on his life.

The son of classically trained chefs who studied together at Johnson and Wales College in Rhode Island, he grew up working in his parents’ American-style diner, trading since 1991.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the February 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

New River Corrib rescue boat to be deployed following ‘significant donation’

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The provision of a specialist rescue craft on the Corrib – upstream from the Weir – could now happen over the coming weeks or months following a ‘significant voluntary donation’ in the past few weeks, the Galway City Tribune has learned.

Water safety issues on the Corrib were highlighted last month when up to 10 rowers had to be rescued after their two boats were sucked in by the currents towards the Weir.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the potentially catastrophic incident which occurred around midday on Saturday, January 14.

A specialist D Class lifeboat is now being sourced as part of a multi-agency approach to try and improve emergency rescue operations upstream from the Weir which would be accessible on a 24/7 basis.

While the cost would be in the region of €40,000 to €50,000, the overall figure would rise to around €80,000 to €90,000 when specialist personnel training costs were included.

Galway Lifeboat Operations Manager, Mike Swan, told the Galway City Tribune that he was aware of a lot of work going on behind the scenes to try and get the Corrib rescue craft in place as soon as possible.

“I suppose we’re all trying to work together to ensure that a full-time rescue craft is provided on the Corrib and I believe that real progress is being made in this regard. This would be very good news for everyone,” said Mr Swan.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the February 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Three years on and ‘Changing Places’ facility on Salthill Promenade still not open

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Mayor of Galway, Cllr Clodagh Higgins at the site of the Changing Places facility, for which she had ring-fenced money. Work on the project only began last February, despite initial predictions that the facility would be open in January last year.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The wait for accessible, specialised toilet facilities at Ladies Beach in Salthill goes on – three years after they were ‘prioritised’ by city councillors.

Galway City Council has confirmed to the Tribune this week that the ‘Changing Places’ facility at Ladies Beach is still not open.

Construction of the facility began almost a year ago, at the end of February 2022.

The local authority confirmed that some €135,600 has been spent on the unit, which is not yet open to the public.

“The initial stages of construction went well, with the facility now largely in place. There are a number of outstanding snags to be completed before the facility can open.

“Galway City Council is liaising with the contractor to complete out these snags, with a view to opening the facility as soon as possible,” a spokesperson said.

The local authority did not elaborate on what ‘snags’ were delaying the project.

But in January, Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, suggested that staffing issues were to blame for the delay.

(Photo: Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins, at the site of the Changing Places facility, for which she had ring-fenced money).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the February 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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