Our beloved Cork mum, 108, is one of Ireland's oldest people

Ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday, CHRIS DUNNE talks to a Cork family about their beloved mother, who is one of Ireland’s oldest people
Our beloved Cork mum, 108, is one of Ireland's oldest people

Kitty Jeffery and sons Ivor and Norman, daughter Anne, her husband Jack and son George. 

“MY mother thinks she’s only 103!” laughs George Jeffery.

“I tell her she’s 108 and she says ‘I couldn’t be, here’s nobody that old! Am I really that old?’”

Remarkably, Kitty has reached that fine age, having been born on November 12, 1914, in Glenville.

“Last time we checked, in November, mum was the third oldest person in Ireland,” says Kitty’s daughter, Anne. 

“Every year since she reached 100, she gets a letter of congratulations from the President and a disc in a box.”

George shows me a photograph of Kitty’s 100th birthday. 

“She was running around at that time,” he says.

Kitty still lives in the family home near Cloyne where she is cared for by her family; Anne, George and Ivor. Sadly her son, Norman, died last year. She has four grandchildren.

“We are very fortunate to be able to keep mum at home,” says George, “and keep her happy here. Bernadette, her carer, is a great help to us, as is the local district nurse.”

Bernadette is on hand to do Kitty’s hair for special occasions. 

“I tong her hair and put curlers in for special occasions,” she says. “She is a mighty lady and talks to me about times gone by. When she is able to get out of bed she goes to the window and says, ‘the hens are out today’.

Has Kitty any wise words of advice?

“She says I’m always running around,” says Bernadette. “She tells me to slow down!”

Kitty must have won the genetic lottery, to reach such a ripe old age.

“Her mother, Anne Mills, was from Ballynoe,” says Anne. “Mum’s first cousins lived into their 90s.

“James Clancy, her dad, was from Kilfinin, Co Limerick. he was a steward in Glenville Manor after he returned from a stint in Australia.

“His sister, Kate, kept house at the Manor and my mother, Kitty, was born there. She had one brother, Bill.

“Granny, Uncle Bill, and mum moved to Turners Cross in Cork City after James died as the house went with the job, so they had to leave it. Uncle Bill was already in Cork and he worked in Musgraves.”

Kitty who was 17 then, had gone to National School in Glenville up to 8th class. 

“After leaving, she helped out after school with the youngsters,” says Anne. Kitty didn’t let the grass grow under her feet.

“She did a secretarial course in the School of Commerce and worked in various places,” says Anne. 

“She worked as a secretary in Jacksons, a gown shop that was in the Queen’s Old Castle, until she married dad.”

Kitty and George Jeffrey on their wedding day.
Kitty and George Jeffrey on their wedding day.

Where did George Jeffery, a farmer from Rathcoursey, cast his eye on Kitty Clancy?

“They met at a dance in Garryvoe,” says Anne. “They married in St John’s Church Cork, and they honeymooned in Dublin.

“Dad was farming at home. He had been in Boston and came home to recuperate after an appendix operation and he never returned.”

George and Kitty, young and in love, set up home together in 1948 and had four children; Anne, George, Norman and Ivor.

Kitty got wheels.

“I taught Mum to drive,” says George. 

“I think she was 50 then. I was only 13 myself! Before that she used to cycle to Cloyne for ICA meetings, she was a founder member, and was in the Mother’s Union group. Her licence came in the post, there was no driving test back then.” 

Kitty had a simple, yet fulfilling, life.

“Mum had fowl; she used to make butter. The milk would come in every morning and she would strain it into big bowls and then the cream would be skimmed off and put into the churn and made into butter. She used to sell that as well as her eggs in Dineen’s grocery shop in Midleton. When she learnt to drive she went to the country markets with her home-made jams and chutneys. The first country market was at St John’s the Baptist School in Midleton.”

Kitty, a woman of many talents, was financial controller on the farm. “She’d tell dad to ask such a price and tell him if he wasn’t asking enough.

“When we sold the barley to Bennetts of Ballinacurra, mum wasn’t happy with the price so she took up a sample to Murphy’s brewery in Cork and got a contract! Welsh’s transport took the barley up to the brewery. The contract was for 80 barrels.

"Women didn’t do things like that then.”

Kitty was strict enough. 

“You’d get a clatter if you told a lie,” says Anne. “Mum was very straight. She never cursed or used bad language. She was very devout and went to church every Sunday - and she was adamant we went too. There was no staying in bed in those days!”

She was caring as well.

“Dad got sick in 1982 with a blood condition and she looked after him,” says Anne. “He had to have a special diet and disguise spinach in white sauce so he’d get nourishment. He died in 1986, aged 77. Mum was 71.”

George and Kitty were very happy. Anne says: “They’d always give each other a kiss if they were going out. They stood up for each other and they supported one another.”

Anne, George and Ivor have happy childhood memories.

“We’d go the strand in the summer and mum would bring a pot of new potatoes and boil them up in the primus. We’d eat them with a cold joint of meat and salad. We always looked forward to those outings.”

In older life, George and Kitty spread their wings. 

“They went to the sheep sales in Kelso, Scotland,” says Anne. “It was mum’s first time flying. She was very nervous but dad was keen she should go, so she went.”

A treat for Kitty was and remains chocolate and she believed in ‘waste not, want not’. 

“If we had fellows working here on the farm, she made soup for them. ‘What’s in that Mrs J?’ they’d ask. ‘I couldn’t tell you, she’d say’! She used all the vegetables from the day before. She made her own burgers from minced meat, parsley and onions. The lads used go mad for them, they were so tasty.”

“She was a reader spoke Irish,” adds Anne. 

Kitty Jeffrey with daughter Anne, and sons Norman, Ivor and George.
Kitty Jeffrey with daughter Anne, and sons Norman, Ivor and George.

“She joined the library and did the crossword in the Examiner every day. 

"She was never seriously ill except she broke her hip in 1985. Mum never drank or smoked. If she had the odd tipple she’d have a baileys Irish cream.”

What did she like for Mother’s Day?

“A large box of Black Magic and flowers,” says George. “In later years, when Kitty was 101, 102, she took the family out to Sunday lunch. She’d treat us all from her pension money. Her last outing was in Youghal when we went to the Imperial Hotel restaurant. When she got more feeble we’d bring her for a drive and an ice-cream and she’d sit in the car.

“She was always in good health but in later years she became more frail, even though she’s on very little medication; just a blood pressure tablet and a sleeping tablet.”

“The doctor told her the sleeping tablets might be addictive. She said, ‘what does that matter at my age?’

What is life like now for Kitty?

“She sleeps most of the day with the TV on,” says George. “I tuck her up in bed after supper and she settles down.”

Kitty remembers special days.

“She said to me the other day; ‘is it St Patrick’s Day?’,” says George. 

“That day was always special to her because her mum and dad met in Glenville on St Patrick’s Day and mum always went to their grave on that day.”

The family must be very proud of their mother who has reached the incredible age of 108.

“She was a remarkable woman,” says George. “And she still is to this day.”

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