‘I think I’d die if I stopped working’: the architect who celebrated his 91st birthday with a day off

Cathal O’Neill spent the day with family and reading for his monthly book club

Some people choose to celebrate their birthday by throwing a party, or going out. For Cathal O’Neill, the best way to mark his 91st year was to take the day off work.

His advertisement, placed in the personal section on the back page of Tuesday’s print edition of The Irish Times, reads: “To celebrate his 91st birthday, Cathal O’Neill, Architect, is taking the day off work”. The ad has been garnering quite a bit of social media attention online.

However, the architect, who graduated from University College Dublin in 1955, said he has no intention of stopping permanently.

Mr O'Neill, who studied and worked for Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, Illinois, established his Dublin practice, Cathal O'Neill and Associates, in 1961.

He began to teach architecture at UCD shortly thereafter, before being appointed head of school in 1972, a position he retained until his retirement in 1996.

But despite his retirement from teaching, he continues to work as an architect, alongside his son Garrett, in the Dublin practice.

“I’m still working on the architecture. I was doing site visits yesterday. I enjoy doing houses. They are very homely,” he said.

“They’re very interesting. It’s nice to try and make a house for somebody and provide them all the amenities. I’m working on a few other projects at this time too.”

The partnership with his son isn’t the first family team, either.

Mr O’Neill’s late wife Deirdre, who died in 2015 aged 82, was an interior designer and gardener. They worked together for many years, which Mr O’Neill said was “lovely”.

“She had great taste. She did some great work,” he added.

And now that he has turned 91, does he have any desire to pack in the day job? Absolutely not, Mr O’Neill said.

“I wouldn’t want to stop working. I think if I stopped working I would die. Architects very frequently work for a very long time,” he added.

“Lots of famous architects have worked well into their hundreds. It’s quite usual. I would like to do the same. I don’t see myself stopping at all.”

Mr O'Neill spent his birthday relaxing with family and reading Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi for his monthly book club.

He also attends a weekly watercolour class to keep him busy outside of work.

The father of five, who also has 10 grandchildren, said the whole family will celebrate at the weekend in a Dublin park.

“I’m very happy to be this age. I’m enjoying life. I’ve always enjoyed life. I’ve had a very charmed life,” he said.

“I’m having a lovely day. People are ringing me, and my family are coming around to me and I’m very happy. I’m very surprised that I got to this age.”