Many happy returns to centenarian Moll
Moll Collins from Moneygall celebrated her 100th birthday in style on Thursday week last as "great neighbours", friends and relations took part in a drive-by of her home to wish her well on reaching the century mark.
In normal times it would have been one hell of a party, but the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic meant that driving passed her house while exuberantly hooting horns was the only way everyone could best salute Moll on reaching such a milestone of ripe old age.
Asked by The Guardian on the eve of her birthday what she attributed to her long life, Moll replied: "I cannot say for certain, but I never drank or smoked."
She said she was thrilled to become a centenarian, if not a little surprised. "I never dreamed I was going to live to 100. It never dawned on me."
The week before her birthday while on holiday with one of her nieces in Co Kildare a five-year-old local boy, on being told of Moll's age, asked: "Why is she not dead"?
Moll laughs at the innocence of the child, but it's a question she often asks herself.
But she added: "I am delighted I have lived so long and I don't want to go - I'll go when the Lord calls me."
For a woman so long on Earth she is still relatively sprightly.
"My hands and my legs (she has a arthritis) are the worst part, but I am still getting around on my walker," she says.
ONE OF THREE DAUGHTERS
Born Mary Parker at the height of the War of Independence on October 8th 1920, Moll was the second of a family of three daughters.
Her father was a small farmer and keen hunter and her mother a housewife. She attended national school in Moneygall, leaving at 13 to become an assistant cook at the grand mansion in the parish, Laughton House.
"There were five of us on the staff at Laughton, including two men. That was before the Second World War, and we were one of the first houses to get an Aga cooker," recalls Moll, who remembers preparing meals before there was electricity in the house.
"There were no hoovers or anything like that in those days. You would be down scrubbing floors, but I never found the work hard," says Moll.
"I remember the owner of the house, Ms Trench, used to travel by pony and trap to Nenagh every Thursday to do the shopping," she recalls.
Two years before the end of the war, aged 23, Moll left to take up a cooking role in a house occupied by a retired British Army officer and his wife near the Curragh in Co Kildare.
She remembers seeing the detention camps were German and British troops were kept as "guests of the State" - a euphemism coined by the neutral government of the day for what were essentially prisoners of war.
"I remember some German airmen coming down in their plane around Nenagh during the war and they were in the Curragh."
She admits that she and some of the local girls had a soft spot for the men. "We fancied ourselves with the Germans," she laughs.
After her stint in Kildare Moll returned to north Tipperary to take up a job as cook in another big house owned by the Smithwicks of Youghal House in Youghalarra, outside Nenagh. Moll says the man of the house, a retired army officer ("a lovely man"), was a Canon of the Church of Ireland and used to give her a lift on his pony and trap to Mass in Newtown on Sunday mornings.
It was in the Smithwick household that she first met her future husband, Paddy Collins, a native of Youghalarra, who worked on the staff as gardener. That's when her name changed from Mary to Moll - a pet name given to her by Paddy.
"We got married in 1947 and came back to Moneygall to live with my mother because she was on her own as my father had died," says Moll.
They lived all their married life in the house where Moll grew up, and she is still living there to this day.
She continued to work right to retirement age, returning to her former employment at Laughton House on a number of occasions, cycling to and from work daily.
Paddy, who was one of 12 children, himself died 15 years ago at the age of 85.
Moll says they both had a love of dancing and they spent many years going to dances all over north Tipperary.
They had no children of their own, but Moll is very close to her nieces and nephews, one of whom happens to be Mick Foster of the renowned singing duo Foster and Allen.
Moll has enjoyed rude health all her life and has recovered well from a fracture she sustained earlier this year after a fall. She also attended hospital in Galway to have the upper part of one of her fingers amputated due to an infection. "They took it off by local anesthetic - I didn't feel a thing," she says.
She has been a pioneer all her life, with a 75-year abstinence pin to prove it. But one thing she can't resist is a good alcoholic sherry trifle.
Still very much a lover of preparing food, she got her niece to stop off at a shop last week to buy a bottle of sherry with the intention of making her famous dessert. "If you didn't have sherry in it I would not thank you for it," is Moll's ruling on what constitutes a superb trifle.
Before the pandemic hit last March she attended Mass in Moneygall every Sunday.
An avid reader all her life, that pleasure was taken from her due to cataracts in both eyes. However, she underwent an operation on her worst eye in Dublin the week before last and is now back reading as much as she ever did.
Moll's big birthday has been noted in Áras an Uachtaráin in the the Phoenix Park from where President Michael D. Higgins has sent her a personally signed letter of congratulations, enclosing a centenarian bounty cheque for €2,540.
"I'll get to spend it somehow or other," Moll muses. "I don't want it here when I'm gone."