A force of nature... now Moyra is set to celebrate her century

In his weekly column, Trevor Laffan celebrates the life of Moyra Swords, who celebrates a major milestone this month, her 100th birthday
A force of nature... now Moyra is set to celebrate her century
Moyra Swords, who celebrates her 100th birthday this month

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW is celebrating her birthday at the weekend and she’s having a party in a local hotel in Cobh.

She has been organising it for the last few months and she’s invited around 300 guests. She’s making a big deal of it and so she should, because she will be 100 years old.

She’s no ordinary centenarian either. Her eyesight and hearing may not be as good as they once were, but her mind is as sharp as a razor. She has an opinion on everything, and she has no problem letting you know what she thinks, whether you like it or not.

Moyra Swords lives on her own in the family home and she won’t have it any other way. There is always someone staying with her at night and her home help comes a couple of times a day. Then the family take turns to call so that she is rarely left on her own. If she’s left unattended for too long, she has a tendency to get up to mischief.

Last year a stair lift was installed. She was having some mobility issues, and this made it easier for her to get up and down the stairs. She flatly refuses to have a bed brought downstairs.

She was told not to use the lift on her own and to wait until someone was with her in case she fell out of it and came tumbling down on her head.

She didn’t know how to operate it anyway so there was no great problem, but of course she figured it out for herself.

One day, one of her daughters left the house after giving Moyra her tea and was just getting into her car to go home when she realised she had forgotten something. She returned to the house only to find her mother halfway up the stairs in the lift.

She was very sheepish, like a child who had just escaped from her cot or a deer caught in the headlights. She promised not to re-offend but, just to be sure, the lift was disabled, and she has no idea how to get it going again. At least, that’s what she’s telling her family.

Now, she is planning her party and she knows exactly what she wants, and when she gets involved in a project like this, she can be very demanding. She’s not blessed with patience and tends to be like a dog with a bone.

As soon as her invitation cards were printed, she had her daughters pestered to get them sent out as far back as the start of January.

She wasn’t happy until she went to the hotel herself to check out the venue, even though she couldn’t see that much of it — but she wouldn’t rest until she vetted it personally. She had it all worked out in her head how the event was going to pan out, including her ‘entrance’. There’s a touch of a diva about her.

Moyra Swords, who celebrates her 100th birthday this month, on her wedding day with husband Vincie
Moyra Swords, who celebrates her 100th birthday this month, on her wedding day with husband Vincie

She’s providing a sit-down meal for everyone, but she lost the run of herself with the invitations and now she’s starting to panic that there may not be enough seating for everyone.

Moyra is originally from Kilmore Quay in County Wexford and loves to go back there for visits, and she’s planning to spend a week there in July to coincide with the local sea food festival.

She has fantastic recall and can still remember stories from her childhood and the names of all the old neighbours and friends.

She’s well able to travel and has been to visit relatives in Australia several times in recent years. She also has some family in Scotland, and she was asking me recently how much a flight to Edinburgh would cost. She loves to travel.

Moyra lived in Liverpool as a teenager during the war and she has lots of stories from that difficult time, including some close calls. One night in particular, the air raid sirens sounded but she didn’t have time to get to the shelter before the bombing started.

She was sitting in her cousins’ house when she heard a loud whistling sound and she instinctively knew it was a bomb. She held her breath, closed her eyes and offered a prayer.

The bomb landed nearby, and the explosion blew in the doors and windows of her home and Moyra was thrown from the chair as the house filled with soot and dust.

It was a terrifying experience and those air raids became almost a nightly occurrence. She’s had many experiences in her lifetime, both good and bad, and I suspect she’s not finished yet.

She shares her birth year with some famous names and has outlived them all. People like the singer Nat King Cole, Desmond Doss, the war hero, Eva Peron, Sir Edmund Hillary, the mountain climber, Jon Pertwee, the actor, and Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian politician.

Life expectancy when Moyra was born in 1919 was 53.5 years for men and 56 years for females, but obviously, she wasn’t prepared to accept those figures and chose to ignore them.

Also, in 1919, Michael Keogh, an Irishman who had joined the German army, stopped an angry mob of men from killing two right-wing political agents who were stirring up trouble among 200 soldiers. They were being badly beaten and some knives were being drawn to finish them off when Keogh ordered his men to fire a few shots in the air to disperse the crowd and pulled the two men to safety.

In 1930 in Nuremburg, Keogh recognised one of the agents he had saved, and it was the infamous Adolf Hitler.

So, if he hadn’t intervened, life would have been very different for millions of people.

And Moyra wouldn’t have been blown off her chair in Liverpool.

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