Anne Byrne with the medal she received from President Higgins
Longford’s oldest citizen Anne Byrne celebrated her 104th birthday with a charity whist drive in July and she explained to Humans of Longford that she received a medal from President Michael D Higgins which featured the inscription ‘our endless possibilities’
Born in Carrigeen in 1915, Anne launched her own book in 2016, entitled ‘The Myths, Legend and History of Ardagh through the ages’. She retired as vice principal of Meán Scoil Mhuire, Longford in 1980 and on Friday, May 24 last, she was among the oldest citizens in the state to cast her vote in the local and European elections.
On her birthday, Anne told Humans of Longford, “You're right, today is a special day for me. I'm 104 years young. Thank God.
“I've just received a special medal from the President and a lovely letter. When I was 100 he sent me a cheque. Each year since he has sent a special medal. Each year's medal is unique with a different message inscribed on it. So today's is ‘our endless possibilities’. Now isn't that something special.”
How did Anne celebrate her birthday as a child?
“The birthday treat was always a currant cake with fresh homemade butter. My mother had to make quite a few because she had 17 children. We didn't get presents and we made our own birthday cards. We didn't buy them and in the evening my father would play the accordion. So later this evening, I'll have my currant cake.”
Anne received her national school education in Lenamore and St Elizabeth’s Edgeworthstown, before attending St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy in Longford town.
“Well I remember going through a field to school and we'd jump on the ditches and pretend we were at the election rallies.
“You see Joe Mc Guinness was standing for election for Sinn Féin. We'd shout ‘we're here today for the rights of Joe McGuinness’ and ‘get him in to get him out’. You see he was in prison at the time and we'd sing songs against the Black and Tans. Oh yes, I remember all the words but they're not suitable for you.
“One sunny day in May I'll never forget, still in my mind's eye, the dreaded Black and Tans arrived early one morning to our house in Legan. I was only a very young girl. They were searching for guns. I still can see them. They were turning over the mattresses.
“I knew where the guns were but they never asked me, thank God. They were hidden out in the hen house between the straw and the galvanise.
“They found nothing but they took my father and two other men and marched them in front of their army lorry. The Black and Tans made them fill in trenches the IRA had dug.
“My mother was very worried. They took the men at eight in the morning but thankfully they were let go unharmed that evening.
“Later the Volunteers came and took the guns. I never saw them after that. I can still see those Black and Tans in our house.”
Anne loved reading and school.
“My mother was a topper. She knitted jumpers and skirts for us. 30 minutes to knit a pair of socks, no Dunnes in those days! All the others learned to knit. I didn't 'cos I was always reading.
“I loved reading and school. When I'd be churning butter I'd have a book on the go. My mother would bring books from the library in the convent in Edgeworthstown, a penny a week.
“For a while in 1927 I went to Primary school in Edgeworthstown. I lived with a family called McCormacks. They had a pub and a light grocery and two cows. Every morning before school I'd bring in the cows and milk them. Same after school and I learned to weigh sugar and tea in the shop. Those days it came in big boxes. I loved my time there. It was very enjoyable.
“I suppose my favourite novel is Wuthering Heights but I read more poetry than novels. I love Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, love Keats and Shelley and I still write poetry.”
Anne keeps very active.
“I was in Granard on Monday night for a whist drive. We had a charity night for Muscular Dystrophy Ireland. It's a charity dear to my heart. My nephew suffers from it. We raised €800.
“I do the crossword every day and watch Countdown on Channel 4 and regularly recite full poems. It’s good mind exercise, good for the brain and you have to keep active and alert.
“Well thanks for calling and see you soon again. On my 105th, I'll have more stories, God willing. God Bless and safe home."
Anne Byrne, Ardagh, passed away peacefully, in her 105th year, at her daughter's home on Saturday, November 30, 2019. May she Rest In Peace.