Five centenarians in one family as Madge Fanning reaches 100

Siblings clock up 1,200 years of life

The Fannings are the first family in Ireland to have five centenarians in one household. Together with their other eight siblings, they have clocked up more than 1,200 year. Video: Alan Betson

 

Not being a history buff, Madge Fanning is unlikely to be able to tell you the details of the year she was born. The records show Charlie Chaplin made his screen debut, the first World War broke out and James Joyce published Dubliners.

What Ms Fanning can tell you is that she, along with four of her siblings and their mother, all lived to see 100, the first family in Ireland to have five centenarians in one household. Together with their other eight siblings, they have clocked up more than 1,200 years.

So what’s the secret? “Minding your own business!” declares Ms Fanning from her home in Skerries in north Co Dublin where today she will meet up to 160 family members to celebrate her centenary. ‘Never give out’ “You never give out about anybody or speak badly about anybody; you speak nicely about everyone.”

It is a simple philosophy, helped by a lifetime without cigarettes or alcohol and a healthy childhood diet from her family’s cattle farm in Galway.

In 1914 Madge Clarke was born to Charles and Margaret Clarke, the 12th of 13 children.

Two years before the start of the second World War she moved to Dublin, where she married James Fanning. Today she has eight children, 15 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.

Of her siblings – all of whom have died except sister Sheila – Joe lived to 101, Charlie to 100, Pat to 102, James to 103. Their mother, Margaret, lived to 100.

“I have a lot of memories of the old days and all of that when I was at home with the family,” Ms Fanning recalls.

“[I remember] cooking for them. It’s not like now with the electricity. You had a fire and you baked brown bread and everything else. It was all different.

Bare feet “You would go to school in your bare feet and all that. Ah, it was great. You had no car or anything. You were on a bicycle no matter where you went.”

Ms Fanning’s memories are of simpler times: singing competitions with girls from other villages; getting married in Dublin because there were no indoor toilets “down the country”; and getting the bus to see the pope during his visit in 1979.

What advice for those who aspire to this age?

“To live their own lives and be happy and content with everybody and not find fault with them,” she says without thinking. “That is my opinion on life now.”