An Ennis hotel played host to its oldest overseas visitor when 100-year-old LeVere Gray checked in earlier this week.
The Washington State resident travelled to Ireland with his daughter Jennifer Gray Austin on a two-week trip with Tauck Tours. The pair arrived in Shannon on Wednesday and stayed at The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis for two nights before departing to see the West of Ireland and their ancestral home in Northern Ireland.
For LeVere, who is lives in Tacoma, Washington, this is his first trip to Ireland and he concedes probably his last.
“I always wanted to come here. In my younger years I met several people who had come from here and they told me many of the tales about Ireland and I was always interested in it,” LeVere revealed.
“I don’t know where I’ll go next year because I don’t plan that far ahead anymore,” he laughed. “After this I guess I’d like to go some place I haven’t been to before,” he added.
His great-grandfather, Dr Robert Alexander Hamilton Gray, departed Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, aged 28, 180 years ago with his wife Catherine Greer. Dr Gray was educated in the University of Edinburgh before leaving for America in 1830.
He had a practice in West Virginia before moving to Missouri and on to Iowa. This willingness to travel is replicated in his great-grandson and great-great grandchildren. Although born in Nebraska, LeVere has journeyed extensively.
“I have travelled over the most part of the United States and down both coasts. I have been to Alaska and Canada in my younger years,” he recalled.
LeVere began his working life as a barber in Minneapolis. He then went to the West Coast to Tacoma, where he worked as a machinist, building ships during World War II.
He spent some time in Kodiak, Alaska, where he worked as an engineer in the fishing industry. He then returned to Washington, where he went into firewood and door manufacturing while still working occasionally as a barber.
After his retirement, the travel bug bit once more, so it’s no surprise he eventually made it to Ireland.
“I went to Panama on a cruise last year and went on a cruise to Alaska before that. It was good to go back and see some of the towns I visited there. It brought back memories,” he said.
LeVere also visited Mexico, Iran, Italy, the UK and Israel down through the years as well as travelling throughout the United States in a motor home with his wife and family members. LeVere was married to Gladys Marie Gustafson for 70 years before she passed away in 2004 aged 92. The couple have four children.
Jennifer, his only daughter, promised LeVere last year that she would take him to Ireland for his 100th birthday, an age he achieved on June 30.
“I had never been to Ireland before either but I have always wanted to come here because that is where my heritage comes from. People say it is gorgeous and the people are friendly, both of which we have found to be true. We have enjoyed the food and the shopping and the hospitality and the hotel,” Jennifer said.
“My dad’s philosophy for longevity is ‘if you worry, worry five minutes and handle life as it comes along’,” she added.