If you want to live a long life in Donegal, then you need to be born in Kilcar! Since the turn of the new Millennium 12 people born or living in the parish of Kilcar have reached the age of 100. Surely that’s a record for one of the smallest parishes in the country.
The newest entrants to the Centenary Club are Francie McCloskey, Curris, and Kitty ‘Dearg’ Byrne, Cashel, who created another piece of history when they reached the age of 100 on the same day on Monday last, 4th February.
Indeed, they were born within hours of each other with the midwife assisting at the birth of Kitty at the home of her parents at Cronroad, Kilcar, then heading immediately to Curris for the birth of Francie.
Kitty and Francie were christened together in St. Cartha’s Church, Kilcar, two days later on 6th February.
Francie still lives alone and is hale and hearty in his home in Curris where he looks after himself, while Kitty is now a resident at Harbour Lights Nursing Home, Killybegs, after breaking her hip in 2005.
The Byrne family held a party for Kitty in Killybegs on Sunday last while Francie is busy organising his own party for John Joe’s in Kilcar on Saturday night next.
They are just two of at least twelve natives of the Kilcar parish who have reached the ripe old age of 100 since the turn of the Millennium.
At one stage in 2001, four from the Kilcar parish were still alive having reached 100, with Cassie ‘Dominic’ Sweeney, the Queen of the Centenarians, from Crove, reaching the age of 108 before her death at the Rock Nursing Home in Ballyshannon in February 14th, 2003.
In 2001, Maggie Campbell, Cuskerry; Annie O’Donnell, Drumreagh and Annie Murrin, Crowanrudda/Stranadeega, had also reached the age of 100.
Since then another six natives of the parish of Kilcar were inducted into the Centenary Club - Nellie Byrne, Muckross; Maggie Byrne, Main Street; Maggie O’Gara, Straleel North; Gretta McRedmond (nee Campbell, Drimnafinagle, as well as Francie and Johnny McGinley, Umiskin, who were then residents of Chicago and Scotland respectively).
The addition of Kitty ‘Dearg’ Byrne and Francie McCloskey makes for an impressive list of centenarians.
One of Francie McCloskey’s claims to fame was the fact that he took a future TD and Parliamentary Secretary, Liam Cunningham, to school on his first day at Derrylaghan. Liam, who represented Donegal as a Fianna Fail TD from 1951 to 1976, went to live in the area when his mother and father died and Francie accompanied him to school in his early years.
Kitty Byrne’s late husband, Francie, was known as one of the foremost fiddle players, not alone in Donegal, but in Ireland, and the Byrne household was a centre of musical activity throughout the year.
Speaking to the Donegal Democrat, local Parish Priest, Fr. Eddie Gallagher, said it was a great celebration for the parish.
“It is a unique celebration, especially for the families, for the parish and for the community. Francie (McCloskey) is in great health. Reaching 100 is something that doesn’t happen often. There have not been many in my lifetime,” said Fr. Eddie.
Kitty ‘Dearg’ Byrne (nee Gallagher)
Born Cronroad, Kilcar, 4th February 1913
Kitty was one of a family of six, three boys and three girls (James, Patrick, Johnny, Ann and Hannah). Patrick (97) and James (90) are still alive and living in Cronroad.
Kitty went to Coguish National School, crossing the river on a plank each day. She married Francis (Francie) Byrne on 12th February, 1934, just weeks after her 21st birthday. The marriage brought together two very musical families with Francie a renowed fiddle player and Kitty a great singer.
She reared four children - two boys and two girls - Annie, Marie, Pat and James. That has extended to 18 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren and most of them were in the Harbour Lights Nursing Home in Killybegs for the party to celebrate Kitty’s 100th birthday.
Although never a member of the Pioneers, Kitty never drank or smoke and until a fall which resulted in a broken hip in February 2005, she was in full health.
Her life was spent bringing up her family as well as working on the farm. Her daughter, Maire, says she was masterful with the needle, spriggin’, knitting and making clothes for her family.
“She was very good with the needle. She would cross the river to Straleel with pieces and did ‘pieces’ for Bella Boyle in Carrick.
“She was strong around the farm. She was as good as any three,” says Maire.
Kitty also had to be a good entertainer as the Byrne house was full most of the year with people calling, sometimes from all over the world, for music sessions.
“Our house would be full the whole summer, some of them foreigners,” says Maire. “They were very musical. My mother was a great singer, mostly of Irish songs. She had many songs,” says Maire, who is happy that the legacy is being carried on by grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Kitty has an aunt, Kitty Gildea (nee Gallagher) who passed away in the US in the early 1980s, having reached the age of 104!
Born Curris, Kilcar, February 4th 1913
Francie went to Derrylahan National School and says he “given a black slate and chalk. That’s what infants got. Later on you got a pencil.”
From a family of 12 (seven boys and five girls), Francie was the fourth oldest. One brother, Anthony, who is 92, is still living in Woking, Surrey in England.
Francie married Bridget Carr, Cashelcarn on 26th February 1944, the Kilcar Fair Day, one of the big social occasions each month in the village.
“The Fair Day was like a holiday. The whole country would be there. When the fair was over they would start to drink and then start to fight,” laughs Francie.
He has memories of the Second World War when everything was rationed. “You had so much tea for the week. It would do you only once now,” he says.
Francie and Bridget had four children - Seamus, Eugene, Marian and Michael, and he still lives alone, well able to look after himself, close to his oldest son, Seamus’s house.
Asked about the key to longevity, Francie quickly replied. “Hard work and the sea air is good too. There wasn’t much fun but there were always big nights, after haystacks.”
In his early days Francie worked on the farm and fishing for salmon off Cladnageeragh Pier, which were only 6d a lb. at the time
“There were plenty of salmon. We would get 20 or 30 at a time. They would be two bailiffs there, but we would be ‘duking’ them. You had to be out early and out late,” laughs Francie.
One of his other early memories is of quarrying limestone and carrying it on creels from a lake to Croagh Ban where they turned it into limestone in a lime kiln. “We then took the limestone home with a donkey and cart from Croagh Ban,” says Francie.
In 1948, he took up employment in the factory in Kilcar and worked there until his retirement in 1977. He always kept a few animals and continued to cut his own turf and provided his own potatoes and vegetables. He also thatched his own house every three or four years.
One of the big changes he has seen is that when he was young, the door was kept on the ‘latch’ day and night. There was no need to lock the front door.
Francie has remained very healthy with a bout of shingles the only complaint he suffered in the recent past.
“They’ll have to shoot me,” says Francie, whose big interest outside his family, is watching the ‘soaps’ on television and keeping abreast of the news from around the world.
He is helping organising his 100th party, which takes place in John Joe’s, Kilcar, on Saturday night. “There is an odd extra client being added to the list every day,” says Francie.
Francie has 20 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren and most of them will be there to celebrate with Francie this weekend.
Kilcar’s Centenarian list
Since the turn of the Millenium, the list of Centenarians born in Kilcar reads:
Annie O’Donnell, Drumreagh
Annie was born in Drimreagh on 8th December, 1893, the youngest member of the Carr family. She went to teach in Meenbanad NS, outside Dungloe, where she met her husband, James O’Donnell, and lives until she was 107.
Cassie ‘Dominic’ Sweeney
Cassie was born on October 6th 1894 and died at the age of 108 at the Rock Welfare Home, Ballyshannon on February 14th, 2003. Cassie was the life and soul of the Rock Welfare Home even after she reached 100.
Maggie Campbell, Cuskery,
Maggie, a native of Glencolmcille, celebrated her 100th birthday on 22 September 1999. She was living on her own when she celebrated her 100th birthday, before going to live with her daughter, Maire McNulty.
Annie Murrin, Crowanrudda/Stranadeega
Annie was born on August 20th, 1901, daughter of Jhn Neil Doherty and Mary Carr. She married John O’Donnell in 1955 and James Murrin in 1973 and lived on her own until four years before reaching her 100th birthday.
Maggie O’Byrne, Main Street
Maggie, who lived in Kilcar village all her life, was born on 3rd October 1903 and died on 25th January, 2005.
Nellie Byrne, Muckross
Nellie, nee Gillespie, was born on 27th March, 1908. She passed away on October 5th, 2008.
Francie McGinley, Umiskin
Francie, who lived most of his live in Chicago in the US, was born on 1-1-2004. He was a regular visitor to the parish and continued to drive until well into his 90s. He died aged 103.
Johnny McGinley, Umiskin
Johnny was born in 1899 and lived until he was 102.
Gretta McRedmond (nee Campbell), Drimnafinagle
Gretta was born in Drimnafinagle on 16th June, 1910 and lived until she was 101.
Maggie O’Gara, Straleel North
Maggie was born in Straleel North on 11th November, 1911. Maggie passed away in late 2012.
Kitty ‘Dearg’ Byrne, Cashel
Born 4th February, 2013
Francie McCloskey, Curris
Born 4th February, 2013