Midlands marvel – 100 not out

The Times We Lived In. Published: June 13th, 2000. Photograph by Pat Langan

 

It may look ordinary at first glance. But when this photograph was taken in the year 2000, its subject had a pretty extraordinary tale to tell. Patrick Greene, from Ballinalee, Co Longford, had just celebrated his 100th birthday; and, as is the case with many centenarians, his life represented a direct line into history.

In 1918, having trained as a teacher, he got a job subbing in Horseleap – where he had a chance encounter with Michael Collins’s brother Johnny, who advised him that as Irish was going to be the official language of the new state, he’d do well to learn it.

“Where would I learn Irish?” Greene wanted to know. Collins put him in touch with a farmer in west Cork, and in 1922 he arrived in Ballingeary and spent six months working on the farm as Gaeilge.

When the Civil War broke out, Greene decided to head for home, but that proved to be easier said than done. The bridge at Mallow had been blown up: no trains were running to or from Cork. He managed to hitch a lift in a lorry, got a boat to Dublin, and finally made his way back to Longford.

There he spent his life teaching, raising eight children with his wife and making a name for himself as a respected folklorist. Three years after this picture was taken, he got an honorary degree from NUI Galway for his contribution to Irish education. He died in 2007, a few months short of his 107th birthday.

On the day they met him our reporter and photographer, however, were more impressed by his immaculate garden and the fact that he was still merrily driving his own car.

Perhaps it’s fanciful to see something of the fairy tale about Patrick Greene’s house and garden – the enormous conifer hedge, the bungalow covered with Virginia creeper, the open door and windows, the flowers, the shrubs in bloom. It would be OTT to describe him as a real-life superhero. But he was undoubtedly a Midlands marvel.

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99

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