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‘I’m so happy’

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100 YEARS OF FORTITUDE Before his Tiernaur concert in aid of Safe Home Ireland on Sunday, renowned singer Seán Keane paid a special birthday visit to
St Brendan’s Village, Mulranny, where he met resident Mary Caffrey, who turns 100 years young today. Also pictured (right) is Dr Jerry Cowley, founder of Safe Home Ireland. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Achill’s Mary Caffrey, one of St Brendan’s Village’s longest residents, turns 100


Ciara Moynihan

Today, November 9, marks a very special day for a very special resident of St Brendan’s Village in Mulranny. Today is her birthday – always reason enough to raise a smile – but today’s birthday is more important than most, as Mary is turning 100.
Born in Dooniver, Achill, in 1921, Mary is one of six children. She went to London when she was just 13 for a job in domestic service. Her first job was as a scullery maid in a big house, with a family called the Landours, who also employed her cousin as a cook and whom she describes as ‘lovely people’.
She returned to Achill when she was 15, and a year later, after a bout of illness, went abroad for work again – this time to Scotland tatie hoking, like so many others from the island. There, she would be up at 3am and out into the frozen fields to dig potatoes. She and the other potato pickers would sleep in old cow sheds, or bothies, under coarse bags filled with hay or straw.
While she was there, World War II raged and the Germans were targeting Scottish shipping areas. She remembers hearing the whistling of bombs falling, praying they weren’t going to land close by, and hiding under clumps of trees or in makeshift shelters.
She soon left the fields and their back-breaking work behind, and went to work in Glasgow, first as a nanny and then as a machinist in biscuit factory, making army biscuits for the troops. She met her future husband at 18, and married aged 21 and continued to work all her life, eventually retiring as an Auxiliary Nurse in 1982. She had three children, though sadly one died at the tender age of two. Her marriage was an unhappy one, as her husband – who had seemed shy and gentle – was violent when he drank, which he did most days. When he died in 1970, her brother encouraged her to move to Manchester, where she lived for many years.
However, the ache for home eventually grew strong, and Mary contacted Safe Home Ireland founder Dr Jerry Cowley to see if he could help make her dream come true. Moved by her story, he said he could, and she was to become one of the first residents of St Brendan’s Village, moving into a bungalow there on December 10, 1997.
Speaking with Tommy Marren on MidWest Radio last week, Mary gushed about her life in Mayo, and all that St Brendan’s has given her. “I live in one of the little houses here… and I’m so happy, I don’t want to die!” she announced, before dissolving into laughter. She also paid tribute to “…the man who’s looking after us, the man who’s responsible for our wellbeing – he’s just one of the best – and that’s the one and only Dr Cowley.”
She continued: “He never tires – talk about compassion, I’ve never known compassion like it! It’s a lovely feeling, Tommy, you know. I might be 100 years old on the 9th, but I’ll tell you one thing, I think I owe the most of that to Dr Cowley since I came here twenty-odd years ago…
“I’m well looked after, listened to, and respected [and treated] with dignity… it helps you in your own wellbeing, doesn’t it? I have peace of mind, and that is a great thing. And that’s what I’ve had since I came to Mulranny and to St Brendan’s.”
To mark her new status as a centenarian, Safe Home Ireland Ambassador, singer Seán Keane called to Mary’s home on Sunday to wish her a very happy birthday, before heading to Nevin’s Newfield Inn, Tiernaur, to play a special fundraising concert for Safe Home Ireland – a charity that is also celebrating a special birthday this year, it’s 21st. Headquartered in St Brendan’s Village, it was founded by Dr Jerry Cowley to provide advice, information and housing assistance to Irish people who want to return home.
Since it was set up 21 years ago, Safe Home Ireland has directly helped 2,144 older Irish people abroad return home, as well as countless others through outreach, information and advocacy services.

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To find out more about Safe Home Ireland and St Brendan’s Village, visit safehomeireland.com. Donations can be via the website or on the ‘Safe Home Ireland – Supporting Irish Emigrants’ page on gofundme.com.