100 YEARS YOUNG Ellen Fadian (right) with her sister Mary Elizabeth.
Centenarian Ellen looking forward to 2021 to celebrate with family and friends
As Achill centenarian Ellen Fadian gets ready to blow out the candles on her 100th birthday cake today, she is already looking forward to 2021, when she can celebrate her major milestone with all her friends and family.
The cheque from Áras an Uachtarain is expected to arrive in the post, along with many cards and well wishes from all those people who can’t be with Ellen for her special day.
Covid-19 restrictions mean today’s celebrations will be low-key, but Ellen’s daughter Helen says her mother is already looking forward to 2021.
“We will be having a socially distanced birthday celebration with three of her four children, along with her only surviving sibling, her 93-year-old sister Mary-Elizabeth. But mum is looking forward to 2021 when the Covid restrictions will hopefully be lifted and she can celebrate properly with all of her children, her six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren who live throughout Scotland, Mayo, Kilkenny and Wicklow,” Helen told The Mayo News.
Born Ellen McNamara on December 22, 1920, in Dooagh, she is the third eldest of six children born to Pat McNamara and Alice, nee Lavelle. Hard work was part and parcel of life in Achill at the time. Her grandfather was Patsy Lavelle once worked for the infamous Captain Boycott during his time in Achill earning six pence a day.
After her formal early education in the old Doogah NS on the Brae, Ellen left home at the tender age of 14 to work as a tattie-hoker in Scotland. There she would get up at 3am in all weathers to pick potatoes for the early food markets in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In her later teens she moved first to London and later to Southport, where she worked as a nurses’ aid in local hospitals.
While in Southport, Ellen married the love of her life, Mick Fadian from Crumpaun, Achill, in July 1948. Two years later, she returned to her native Dooagh, where she raised a family of four. Mick, like other men at the time, continued to work in the UK on the farms and railways earning money to send home.
Eventually Mick returned to Dooagh for good in the late 1960s, and they enjoyed a happy life together before he sadly passed away in 2006.
Ellen’s daughter Helen explained that her mother still has many memories of her childhood. Among them is being one of the first to travel on the ‘unofficial’ CIÉ bus to Dooagh.
“At only nine years of age, she was on the first CIÉ bus which came into Dooagh unofficially in September 1929, a fact that she is proud of. Mum was on her way home from hospital in Castlebar after having lost toes in an accident in Keem three months earlier. At that time, the last bus stop was at the Achill Head Hotel in Pollagh but, as it would have been a long walk home for her from there, the bus driver drove to Dooagh and dropped her off at her house,” Helen explained.
Ellen also remembers having to take shelter during bombing raids in World War II, the plane crash in Croaghaun in 1950, JFK’s assasination, the moon landings, as well as four currency changes, and the introduction of electricity, running water and telephones into every house.
“She received a mobile phone as a gift in 2001 and was delighted with herself when she learned how to text in her mid-80s. In her own words, she has witnessed ‘prosperity beyond belief’ in recent years when she compares it with the old days,” Helen said.
Over the years, Ellen’s favourite pastimes have included singing and dancing, picking dillisk and carrageen in Keem, reading, and watching the soaps on TV. While she has spent the majority of her life in Achill, she has travelled to see family members in London, Liverpool and Scotland, visited the Christmas Market in Frankfurt and made pilgrimages to Lourdes and Rome.
One of Ellen’s relatives is the US women’s World Cup winning footballer and current Manchester City star, Rose Lavelle, whose great-grandfather John P Lavelle, was Ellen’s uncle.
“Nowadays, there is nothing that Mum likes more than sitting in the conservatory and looking out across the sea to the Minaun Cliffs and Clare Island on a bright day and watching all the different birds that fly into the garden, paying special attention to the arrival and departure of the swallows. On a clear night, she enjoys looking at the stars and the planets above her.
“She still loves to sing along to songs on the radio and enjoys listening to lively music on Mid West Radio and Raidió na Gaeltachta and is known on occasion to do a little twirl around the kitchen whenever she hears one of her favourite tunes.”
As with everyone who reaches 100 years, the inevitable question is, ‘What’s the secret?’.
“She credits ‘plenty of hard work’ as the secret to her long and happy life,” Helen explains, “together with the love and companionship of family, friends and neighbours, the importance of eating good food at regular times, a little drop of sherry every day and the top-class care of local doctors, nurses and health professionals in Achill.”