You too can live to 99, if you play your cards right

He’s just celebrated his 99th birthday and says keeping busy and active is key to a long life. Paddy O’Mahony tells CHRIS DUNNE how playing cards has also been an ace in his pack
You too can live to 99, if you play your cards right
Paddy O'Mahony playing cards.

WHAT’S the secret to staying card sharp as you approach your 100th birthday?

For Corkman Paddy O’Mahony, the answer is to eat well, enjoy lots of fresh air — and play a sociable game of cards three times a week.

And he’s a good man for the advice, as his great-granny lived to 103, and his 94-year-old sister is a card player too!

Paddy, who was 99 on Christmas Day, lives in Cullen, near Millstreet. He and his late wife, Mary, from Kerry, had four children, Bridie, Tade, Noel and Siobhan.

He plays cards every week in Cullen, Castleisland and Ballydesmond and says: “My father played the game of 45 and 31. He taught me how to play cards at the age of five.”

Paddy’s card-playing partner, Betty, has been alongside him for 30 years, and he also stays active by minding the animals at the home farm at Meenaglóherane.

As we chat, he is enjoying a pint of stout.

“I don’t really like the taste of it,” says Paddy, who has a twinkle in his eye and a ready smile. “But my doctor recommended I should take stout once a week. I don’t agree with drinking that fizzy stuff. It’s not good for anyone.”

For his recent 99th birthday, a cake was made for him in the community centre in Ballydesmond. “All the card players got a piece of it and they enjoyed it. I was born three minutes before St Stephen’s Day, 1919,” adds Paddy.

“I only have one cards partner. Betty is a great player. “We understand each other. We hold our own and we do very well.”

What makes a good player?

“You don’t read the other player’s expressions around the table,” says Paddy. “You read the cards and remember how they fall each time they are dealt.”

Paddy O'Mahony and wife Mary
Paddy O'Mahony and wife Mary

Sage advice from the old master at the top of his game!

“And he keeps the count for every game for the whole table,” adds Siobhan, Paddy’s daughter. “He is great at keeping the count.”

Paddy, who has a great memory, reads the paper every day and is a great draughts player.

“He is a whizz at it,” says Siobhan. “He taught all his grandchildren to play draughts and one of his grandsons, Darragh, is an All-Ireland champion.”

Paddy was a keen sports man in his day and says the physical work on the farm, working with his father, stood him in good stead.

“It didn’t do me any harm and the work kept me active,” says Paddy. “I played football and handball was my favourite game. I had to give it up eventually. There wasn’t time for everything.”

The farm demanded a lot of attention. “We had good land, but we worked very hard,” says Paddy. “Five of my uncles worked in the coal mines in Wales, shovelling coal. My father worked in Montana in the copper mines. He bought the farm in 1912. The men all had a great work ethic.”

Paddy inherited their genes.

“We re-claimed the land and used to go to the quarry in Kerry to get lime to fertilise the land. Back then, you boiled the lime in the kiln to break it down so that you could spread it in the fields. We lived off the land. All my people before me worked very hard.”

Paddy still likes to oversee his fields.

“Every morning after breakfast, I drive down in my car to check the animals, and bring in the cows. I make porridge for myself and Noel and I feed the calves,” he says.

“Dad is still earning his living!” says Siobhan.

Paddy has future plans. “When I’m 100, I’ll buy a new car!”

He was used to more than one mode of transport throughout his long, healthy life.

“We often went to school barefoot in the summer for months,” says Paddy. “Then we went to school on the tractor.

“I used to milk the cows before going to school. We made butter and churned it before bringing it to the creamery. Our own pig was killed and the bacon cured. It was kept in a barrel and shared it was out among the neighbours. If it was to be smoked, we salted the bacon and hung it up over the fire.

“I worked as a butcher and I chopped up the animal and I made the black puddings.”

Paddy had his own inventive way of working.

“I used to lay out the puddings after boiling them first, along the handle of the brush to dry them out.

“We grew oats, barley, and potatoes. Our breakfast would be a square of bread and a glass of milk.”

Apart from being a master card-player, Paddy is a fine baker too.

“I used to buy a big sack of flour and a bag of soda and bake my own bread before we ever had any electricity. Electricity changed the face of farming and of society,” he says.

“Electricity made living a lot easier for everyone. But hard work never killed anyone.”

Paddy doesn’t believe in worrying about anything. And he believes in the modern day fountain of youth: good humour and a smile.

“Why would you worry?” says Paddy. “It is a complete waste of time.”

What else does he advise for a long and healthy life?

“Keep busy doing what you like,” says Paddy. “Eat good, plain food and enjoy good fresh air.

“I like being among people and being sociable. It keeps me young. I only ever suffered a hernia; otherwise I always had great health.

“My great-granny lived to be 103. I have one sister, Han, 94. She’s a card-player too.”

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