Róisín Ingle: Miss Roddy got Covid-19 and survived. She is 103 and a local legend

Miss Roddy’s results came back positive. She was isolated, but the virus didn’t take her

Miss Roddy gets a special cake on her 100th birthday, in 2017. Photograph: Rachael Ingle

Miss Roddy gets a special cake on her 100th birthday, in 2017. Photograph: Rachael Ingle

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Do you have a pandemic cup? The one all your comforting pots of tea and working from home mugs of coffee are drunk from? I do.

Mine was a present from someone who knows how much I love my home village of Sandymount in Dublin. It’s a cup decorated with a panorama of Sandymount Green, showing Ryan’s pub on the corner and the horse chestnut trees and the park with two people sitting on one of the benches. Beside the pub, you can see a line of shops which I hope, as phase 2 begins, are starting again to open their doors.

One of those shops is called Mira Mira. It’s a small store that sells all sorts of beautiful and useful things, from lampshades to jewellery, birthday cards to children’s clothes. Things you didn’t know you needed, like a corkscrew in the shape of a smiling woman in a pale blue dress or a lunchbox in neon pink.

But before it was Mira Mira it was Miss Roddy’s shop. Roddy’s loomed large in my childhood, and if I close my eyes now I am back there, the smell of freshly sliced ham in my nostrils and Miss Roddy, in her pristine pinnie, behind the counter placing the sweets – bullseyes, clove rock, apple drops – I’ve taken several tortuous minutes to select in a twist of white paper.

A few years ago we were invited to Miss Roddy’s 100th birthday. I brought my children to see her in the nursing home. She was in great form, posing for photographs, clutching a framed copy of her congratulatory letter from President Michael D Higgins. Her family and friends, including her nephew Tommy, had organised a huge cake. I sat with her and reminisced about the shop.

Older women would come and sit chatting on the wooden chair Miss Roddy kept near the counter for that purpose

A person like Miss Roddy, who had daily interactions with everyone in the community, wasn’t just a shopkeeper. She had intimate knowledge of the lives of her customers. She heard confidences and kept secrets. She knew our triumphs and disasters. In the parlance of this time, she performed a very essential service. And I’m not just talking about the square slabs of “pink cake” – moist sponge topped with lurid pink icing – she dispensed.

Tommy emailed last week to say Miss Roddy, 103 now, had contracted Covid-19. And that by some miracle she had survived. I put the news on our family WhatsApp and asked for Miss Roddy memories. “Fizzlesticks,” said one brother. “She used to give me the scraps off the ham slicer,” said another.

One sister remembers toddling there with a list aged three. She worked there on Saturdays, and remembers older women coming in to buy very little, sitting chatting on the wooden chair Miss Roddy kept near the counter for that purpose. One summer, aged 11, my sister worked there full-time to pay for her school uniform.

Roddy’s shop on Sandymount Green in Dublin. The Roddy family arrived from Co Louth in the 1930s
Roddy’s shop on Sandymount Green in Dublin. The Roddy family arrived from Co Louth in the 1930s

My other sister, who also worked in the shop, remembers Miss Roddy totting up the purchases on grease-proof paper with a pencil. She was quick and smart and never got a sum wrong. Her hair was tidied away neatly in a net. The till was a wooden drawer. She knew everybody’s name.

“Looking back,” my sister said of this local legend, “she was a role model for young women, but we didn’t know that then.”

There are other things we did know, even then. Everybody mentioned her kindness and that was no surprise to me. I remember the day after my father had died by suicide, I went in, aged eight, to get some penny sweets and she wouldn’t take my money.

There are things we didn’t know, like the history of the shop. Miss Roddy’s family first arrived at number 3 Sandymount Green – we lived at number 8 – in the early 1930s.

I wonder did she remember those days when in the 1980s she allowed us to exchange our government-issued butter vouchers for things that were not butter

The Roddys were rural people from Co Louth, so when they came to Dublin they reared pigs and chickens and grew all their own vegetables. The front room of the house became a place where they could sell the eggs and vegetables, and that’s how the shop began. The business thrived largely thanks to Mary or, as she was known, May Roddy, the oldest daughter in the family. She made her own ice-cream, and there were queues out the door in summer time.

Another thing I never knew: During the second World War, known for some reason as “the Emergency” in Ireland, Miss Roddy was the ration officer for the area. She kept the ration books for everyone.

I wonder did she remember those days when in the 1980s she allowed us to exchange our government issued butter vouchers for things that were not butter. She ran the shop until 1990, when she retired, and after that you’d see her on daily walks along Sandymount Strand.

Everyone was tested in the nursing home last May, and Miss Roddy’s results came back positive. She was isolated for two weeks but the symptoms were mild. The virus did not take her.

These days, Miss Roddy can no longer speak for herself, Tommy said in his email. The family would like to say thank you to all the staff for looking after May during these challenging and difficult times.

And while we’re saying thank you, here’s another one: thank you Miss Roddy. You made our lives better. We’ll never forget.

roisin@irishtimes.com