I'm 83... but not too old to ‘surf’, says West Cork woman

Mary Rose McCarthy catches up with a ‘Silver Surfer’ in West Cork, Peggy Leahy who’s revelling in the joys of learning some new digital skills.
I'm 83... but not too old to ‘surf’, says West Cork woman
Peggy Leahy.

THE St Michael’s Centre in South Main Street, Bandon, provides service and support to older people.

On Tuesdays, the venue runs ‘Digital Eye’, where people bring their smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and learn to use them according to their own needs.

The club is very popular and supported by volunteers who work one to one with people.

Centre Manager, Rita Kearney, invited me to meet with one of their ‘Silver Surfers’, Peggy Leahy, who is 83.

During a break in the morning session, Peggy and I chatted over a cuppa. She is delighted to share her story.

Originally from Dublin, Peggy and her husband moved to county Cork more than 25 years ago and now live a few miles from Bandon town.

Peggy was the eldest of 11 children, eight girls, and three boys. She has one sister in America, two in Dublin, and four in England. Her three brothers are deceased.

She says: “I helped raise the others. There was no choice with so many in the house. And granny lived with us also and helped out.”

At the age of 23, Peggy and two of her sisters went to England in search of work. By this time, she had trained as a dressmaker and designer in a Dublin factory. But she’d always really wanted to work in an office. In Guildford, near London, she took the exam to work in the civil service, which she was pleased to pass. She then secured a job with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

When she met her husband, they moved to Devon. There was no Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Devon, so Peggy transferred to the National Health Service, doing the wages for a number of hospitals in the region.

“Imagine,” she says, “I had no problem working with the big old fashioned machines of computers back then, turning out the wages, but now I’m fearful I’ll press the wrong button or break the Kindle my son gave me.”

She laughs at her timidity.

Peggy always dreamed of returning to Ireland and when retirement came, it was time to make the dream come true. After some house hunting, she and her husband found a cottage outside Bandon once owned by an old bachelor who had not moved with the times.

“It was derelict,” she says. “No electric or toilet. We fixed it up.”

Her dressmaking skills were a great asset; she did all the upholstery and made the curtains. She had to oversee the restoration of the cottage, as her husband was unable to walk following a serious road crash on one of their journeys to Ireland.

“I’m a very determined person and am not comfortable having people do things for me,” says Peggy. Alluding to the fact that being the eldest of 11 instils responsibility and independence, she adds: “When you’re the eldest of a large family you get used to looking after people.

As Bandon is her nearest town where she goes to do her shopping, use the library or see doctors, it was here that she encountered Rita Kearney. Rita told her that St Michael’s have people who can help with odd jobs in the home, should she ever need them. Rita’s husband is in care and there are things she’s no longer able to do herself. Clearing out the attic before insulating it was one such job.

“The lads came, cleared everything out, and brought it to a charity shop in Bandon. It was a great service and one I just couldn’t do myself.”

From there on, Peggy kept in touch with Rita, who encouraged her to visit St Michael’s, which she did when her son bought her a Kindle she couldn’t use.

“I felt stupid I didn’t know how to use the Kindle for emails, and when I think back now to that computer in Devon…” her voice trails off. But now she has learned to send email via Kindle. She says: “It needs concentration and also confidence. I’m afraid things will go wrong and I won’t be able to control it.”

The other great advantage of the Kindle is audible. When she can’t sleep at night, audible books are there at a touch of a button, whereas prior to this she’d get out of bed to search for something to read. She especially enjoys historical fiction.

Peggy’s days are filled with keeping house, sewing, knitting, and craft work. She makes her own clothes, including trousers and waistcoats from Donegal tweed.

Peggy says: “I’m very happy to be so healthy for my age, able to drive and to know what’s going on. Thank God for the good health, which I hope lasts a little bit longer and that I get more proficient at emails.”

The 83-year-old enjoys Digital Eye at the centre and chatting during the session with others in the same boat as herself.

The Digital Eye Club welcomes new members, especially volunteers with computer knowledge, willing to assist users become more familiar with their devices.

It runs every Tuesdays. For more information contact them at 023 8841681 or email: stmichaelscentre@gmail.com

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