‘Where do people go when they die? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that’s a queer question’

Working life: Lucy Carty, in Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Working life: Lucy Carty, in Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 01:00

In conversation with Rosita Boland:

Lucy Carty, 103, was born in May 1910, the eldest of nine children. Only one of her siblings survives. Her parents, Patrick and Winifred, had a large farm in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow, where they lived off the land.

She began her working life at the age of 11, when her mother died. She first cared for her eight younger siblings. At the age of 14 she went to work in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, for a relative who had a pub and grocery.

She was not paid for the work she did there, weighing out goods such as flour and sugar, often until midnight.

Later she spent some years with a sister, caring for her children. When her cousin Ruby Sheehan O’Rourke died, leaving three young children, Lucy went to take care of them.

She remained with one of those children, Má ir e O’Rourke, for almost the rest of her life, later taking care of Má ir e’s own children. She never married.

When Lucy turned 100 she spent the p resident’s celebratory birthday cheque for €2,540 – the “Centenarian Bounty ” – on a party for 170 relatives and friends at the Clarion Hotel in Cork. According to Má ir e, who helped arrange the party, she had to be persuaded to go to bed at 2.30am.

Until two years ago Lucy lived with Máire and her family in Cork city. Since then she has been an active resident of the geriatric ward at Marymount University Hospital, in Cork, where she has many visitors, chief among them Máire and Máire’s family.

I can walk down the corridor. If there is anyone there to walk with me I’ll go for a walk. You have to get up and go. You have to keep going. There’s no use in sitting down and saying, ‘I can’t do it.’ If you keep that up you’ll fail. That’s the main thing I’ve learned in life: keep going. After I’ve done my walk I can sit down. I’ve done my job. If you don’t walk you just rust up.

What do I remember about my mother? She had long black hair. She always had it up in a knot, and she wore a veil over it at Mass. I remember once going to Christmas Mass in the dark with my mother. We went down through the fields and the hedges for a mile in the dark, and she was holding a candle in a lantern, lighting the way. I can see that light in the lantern with its four glass sides.

They tell me I’m the same age as the ICA, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. It was great to be a part of them. I was a member for years. They come and see me now. I always loved cookery; baking and breadmaking. When anyone came visiting they always had to have a slice of my bread to take away with them. It’s still lovely to have visitors: they bring me all the news.

Who’s Enda Kenny? He’s the principal man. He’ll have to come and see me. I know all the tricks around here. But I won’t tell you what they are.

I’m happy. It’s very nice to be free here. When I walk into a place I know if I’m going to like it or not, and I liked this place when I came in. I can walk. I can hear, but my eyesight is not so good. I like listening to music. I don’t remember my dreams, but I think sometimes they wake me up.

I go to Mass at nine o’clock every morning. Where do I think people go when they’re dead? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that’s a queer question to ask. I don’t know where anyone goes.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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