Eileen looks back on her 100 years

Eileen looks back on her 100 years

15 September 2021

CROSSGAR woman Eileen Sweeney celebrated her 100th birthday last week.

The centenarian received a Papal blessing which was presented to her by the local parish priest, Fr Brendan Smyth, along with cards and flowers from her family and her carers from Trackars Home Care.

Mrs Sweeney — who lived most of her life in Fermanagh before moving to be close to her family in the village in 2010 — also received a card of congratulation from the Queen and a letter and cheque from Irish President Michael D Higgins.

Having reached her 100th birthday, the local woman credited her long and happy life to good health and strong faith.

Mrs Sweeney also advised: “Just take one day at a time and try not to worry too much. Having good health is a blessing and should be appreciated as one.”

After moving to Crossgar, she was welcomed into the community by the women’s group in Tobar Mhuire which soon made her feel very much at home. 

The mother of three children — Thomas (Tom), Mairéad and Mark — Mrs Sweeney was warmly welcomed by the Crossgar parish and appreciates the dedicated pastoral care of Fr Brendan Smyth and his team ever since.

Mrs Sweeney lives independently with the support of her family, a great team of carers and very caring neighbours. 

She continued to drive throughout the years but at 95 she finally decided to “give up the driving with a clean licence”, something she took great pride in.

Now that she was living closer to her family, Mrs Sweeney took great interest in the involvement of her family and grandchildren with the local GAA clubs in Loughinisland and Teconnaught and also Kilmore Rec football club in Crossgar.

Always keen to embrace technology, she regularly texts her family on the mobile phone that she has had for many years and, more recently, she received an iPad as a present, using it to attend Mass daily from home and to video call her family and friends via FaceTime.

Her daughter Mairead said: “Eileen’s 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren are a great source of pride to her and there is nothing better than a visit or a FaceTime call from one of her them and their families to brighten up her day.”

The Crossgar woman featured in the BBC NI documentary, True North — The First Generation, televised last year. Hosted by Stephen Walker, the programme featured five people from Northern Ireland who were born in 1921 recounting their experiences over the years. 

Mrs Sweeney told of her early days at school in the 1920s and 1930s and the war years in the 1940s in Enniskillen, with blackouts on all car lights and windows and butter, tea and sugar smuggled across the border. 

She reminisced on the dances and fashion of the 1950s when she met and married her husband, Mark, the 60s rearing her family and the 70s onwards where in spite of turbulent times, she tried to ensure family life went on with as much normality as possible.

Her thoughts at the end of the programme were that she had “no regrets in her life”.

As she celebrates her 100th birthday, Mrs Sweeney still has a tremendous zest for life, her interest and caring for the people around her and her determination to face and embrace new challenges that has characterised her whole life.

Born Eileen Quigley on September 9, 1921, near Enniskillen, Mrs Sweeney was the youngest and now the only surviving member of a family of five. 

She clearly recalls her childhood on the farm, where she helped build rucks of hay and the tea in the hayfield. 

She attended the local primary school — where her uncle was the “Master” — on a horse drawn wagon and at the age of 14 went to the convent in Enniskillen, where she followed a commercial course. 

Mrs Sweeney remembers this fondly and talks about how she had learned Pitman and Gregg shorthand, as well as book keeping and typing skills. 

Jobs at that time were hard to find and she spent some time searching for a job before finding employment in a local accountants office. She then moved to Wellworths office in January 1940 and was there doing the book keeping during the war years. 

She can also recall the American soldiers who came in to play their music on the shop floor and how well they looked in their smart uniforms.

Mrs Sweeney had her driving licence by this time, but did not have her own car. In 1946, she left Wellworths and briefly worked for another firm, before hearing about an opportunity in an insurance company, which was later subsumed into the new Ministry of Social Services in 1948. 

She loved driving around the country and having her independence with her own car. She was one of the first women driving in Fermanagh and was always proud of her driving skills. 

Mrs Sweeney worked for the civil service until she married her late husband, Mark, a farmer from Lisnaskea, on August 27, 1956. 

As a civil servant, she had to give up her job when she got married, something which she always regretted and felt was unfair.

Mrs Sweeney dedicated her life as a homemaker to looking after the family, working on the farm and doing farm accounts while travelling abroad.

Her husband died in December 1988 but she stayed on in Fermanagh until she made the move to Crossgar in 2010.