Ireland’s oldest man, Paddy Gleeson, died last weekend. The O’Callaghan’s Mills man turned 106 on May 20. Since turning 100, Paddy earned himself six presidential medals and a level of fame not only because of his age but also for his memory, which was extremely clear until his final year.
Having led such a long life, he was frequently asked what his secret was, to this he would reply, “I was nice to everyone I met. I never drank and I never married.”
Paddy had been unwell for the last number of weeks and although it was not unexpected, the feeling locally following his death was one of sadness.
Born in 1904, Paddy lived with his parents in O’Callaghan’s Mills up until the age of six, when a house fire led him to Tuamgraney. His mother died when he was 11 and his father emigrated to the US for work. Paddy lived with his aunt in East Clare but later went on to work with the Board of Works and the council. He settled back in Kealderra, O’Callaghan’s Mills, and lived there until he was 102.
Councillor Joe Cooney recalled that Paddy never got home help and was never unwell up until then. He spoke highly of Paddy’s neighbours and friends, who looked after him but stressed Paddy was very independent and continued cooking for himself while living in Kealderra.
“He drank lots of spring water and felt this helped keep him alive for so long. There was a birthday party at the community centre for his 100th birthday, where he even danced a set. Unfortunately, at 102 he could no longer live in his house and moved to Raheen. He lived independently in Knockatullish before moving to the main hospital aged 104. He spent the past two years in the main part of the hospital. Paddy was a great historian and a great man to have a chat with. He had it tough when he was young but he lived his life and surprised everyone by living to 106,” the councillor said.
A member of the nursing staff at Raheen hospital commented, “Paddy came to Raheen when he was 102 and up to that he lived at home where his neighbours were extremely good to him. I can’t say it wasn’t unexpected, we’re very sad and you feel a part of history is gone.”
For the past two years Paddy honoured the anniversary of the deaths of the four Scariff Martyrs, who were shot dead in Killaloe by British auxiliaries on November 16, 1920, by laying a wreath at their graveside. Paddy was present at the funerals of these men. This week marks the 90th anniversary of this tragedy and it is now tinged with added sadness in the wake of Paddy’s passing.
East Clare historian Tomás MacConmara interviewed Paddy a number of times for the oral history group Cuimhneamh an Cláir and he spoke about Paddy’s wealth of local knowledge.
“I first recorded him when he was 99. It was an incredible thing to be able to sit down with Paddy and for him to be able to take you back to that part of time. He could give you an adult’s recollection of the Black and Tans in County Clare in 1920. He was always very welcoming and happy to talk about history. Having that personal testimony is hugely important to the historical narrative,” Tomás said.
Paddy’s funeral mass took place on Wednesday evening in O’Callaghan’s Mills and he will be buried on Thursday morning at Killuran cemetery. Sadly, one of Paddy’s cousins with whom he had been close, Vincent Boland, also of O’Callaghan’s Mills, passed away on the same night as Paddy. Paddy will be laid to rest beside Mr Boland.
Paddy Gleeson is survived by his nephews, cousins and extended family.