“I STILL can’t believe I’m 100!” Kathleen McConville said with a smile, as she gazed upon the flurry of birthday cards that decorated her immaculate living room.
Although it is unsurprising that the Tyrone centenarian – who boasted a sharp mind, great memory and fantastic sense of humour – lives in such a spotless home in Ballygawley as she was a revered housekeeper in her heyday.
Modest, too, Kathleen said that she didn’t expect to receive all the well-wishes that she did – let alone her splendid card from Queen
Elizabeth, her hand-signed letter from President Michael D Higgins, the correspondence from prestigious bishops… or her four birthday cakes!
Kathleen was born in Findrum, in the parish of Ballygawley on Tuesday, October 21, 1919, and grew up in ‘a wee cottage’ alongside her three sisters, Annie, Nellie and Mary.
Her childhood, Kathleen recalled, was tough as her family were poor, but despite this, Kathleen never lost her spirit and ‘ran around’ with all the other young folk and her cousins, and when she had time, she simply loved dancing to the hornpipe, doing the four-horn reel, and skipping.
“I was kept at home to do work in the fields,” Kathleen recounted. “I gathered potatoes and sticks, tied corn, and went out to the boglands to prepare for cutting the turf for the fire. Sometimes I even walked the fields to collect primroses or picked flowers.
“Times were different back in those days, and were often very hard. There were no electric lights, no footpaths, and I missed school many a day as I didn’t have the chance to go: I had so much to do at home.”
But when Kathleen did make the journey to school – under the tutelage of Master Sheldon – she did so in her bare feet.
“Although we wore wellingtons in the winter,” she added. “I wouldn’t like to go back to that again though!”
When Kathleen was 15, she went to Belfast to work, but quickly returned back to her birthplace of Ballygawley, where she became a widely-respected housekeeper before eventually retiring.
Today, Kathleen entertains her many family and friend with stories from her past, and can oftentimes be seen attending Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ballygawley, of which she is a cherished member.
And Kathleen, what is your secret for living such a long life?
“Hard work!” Kathleen exclaimed immediately, through laughter. “My life has been full of happy times and high times, but my secret is good hard work, and exercise.
“I also didn’t marry… I was too hard to please!”