Ireland’s oldest person Kitty Jeffery remembers the Civil War and the shooting of Michael Collins

She turns 109 next month, another milestone in a life her son George describes as “remarkable.”

She turns 109 next month, another milestone in a life her son George describes as “remarkable” and in which she has lived through some of the most pivotal events in Irish history and difficult times.

George, 71, is Kitty’s second eldest child after his older sister Anne and he jokes that he is probably “Ireland’s eldest son”.

He says that Kitty’s father was James Clancy, the youngest in a family that came from Ballyorgan in County Limerick. He and much of his family emigrated to Australia in the 19th century in search of work.

However, James did not like Australia’s unforgiving climate and returned to Ireland with his eldest sister Kate, securing a position as deputy steward and later farmland manager at Glenville Manor in north County Cork.

He then met a lady called Anne Mills from Ballynoe, east Cork, and the couple married and had two children, a boy, Bill, and a girl, Kitty, in Glenville.

George says his mother had a “very happy childhood” where she grew up as a member of the Church of Ireland and mixed freely with the local population due to the “excellent social relations” in the area.

“Most of their friends would have been Catholics and members of the Church of Ireland in their own parish of St Marys,” explains George. “There was never a problem in this regard at all.”

“She was educated locally, in a school where everyone was educated. “It should be like the modern version of a shared class,” says George. “All shapes, sizes, religious backgrounds, everything, they were all taught at the school in Glenville.”

Kitty (tall girl in back row) and her classmates from Glenville National School, photographed in the mid-1920s.

However, Kitty experienced some turbulent times in Ireland in her early years and can recall some memories from the War of Independence and the Civil War.

“She remembers well that during the troubled times a British soldier rode into the farm to look for local volunteers and was told there was no one here, so he set off again on his horse,” says George.

“She also remembers that during the Civil War, as you know, a lot of the big houses were burned down and they came to burn down the mansion and the locals stood up and said, ‘No, these are good people in Glenville, that.’ They always have been.’ “They cared about us,” so they left and didn’t burn the mansion down during that time,” he says.

The civil war in particular awakens unpleasant memories for Kitty, who as a young girl even remembers learning about the death of Michael Collins.

“She says they were terrible times, terrible times, people dying in the trenches and everything, she says it was terrible,” says George.

Kitty’s life was largely untouched by the events of the time, but became difficult when her father died when she was 16 years old.

Because her home was tied to her father’s work, Kitty and her family had to leave their beloved Glenville and move to the city, where they had difficulty finding housing.

George says his mother always knew every street in Cork city and one day he asked her how she knew them all.

“She said, ‘Why shouldn’t I? “We accompanied each of them in their search for a house,” he says.

Times were “very hard” and Kitty took on various secretarial jobs to make ends meetr about working as a private secretary for the wealthy Jackson family, a role through which she got to know Cork’s Jewish community, for which she “always had plenty of time”.

Her brother Bill worked for Musgraves, but like many of Kitty’s family members, he died young after contracting tuberculosis, which was “widespread” in Cork in the 1930s and 40s.

Kitty’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when she met George Jeffery at a dance and they married in the late 1940s.

After their honeymoon in Dublin they moved first to Rathcoursey and then to Knockasturkeen near Midleton, where they settled on a farm and had four children; Anne, George, Norman (who sadly passed away last year after an illness) and Ivor.

Kitty, who had a “quiet but deep faith,” not only helped tend the farm but also held regular services at Aghada Presbyterian Church, her husband’s congregation.

Kitty and her husband George on their wedding day, St John’s Church, Cork.

She was also heavily involved in the local Irish Countrywomen’s Association, the Mother’s Union and later in the farmers’ markets around Midleton, where she sold, among other things, jams and preserves.

While Kitty’s husband died of a blood disorder in 1986 at the age of 71 (aged 77), George credits the Mills bloodline inherited from his mother for helping her live such a long life, with many on her mother’s side living into her 1990s Years.

Although Kitty is now mostly confined to her bed, she is still “sleeping and eating well” and was in good spirits for last weekend’s much-anticipated visit from President of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr. Sam Mawhinney, to receive.

As Kitty’s 109th birthday approaches, George says he and his siblings are happy to still have their mother with them.

“She looks good, she’s not sick at all, which we’re blessed with.”

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