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 Mary McGrath, who is 101, and the oldest participant in Ballyphehane Learning Neighbourhood, with Siobhán O’Dowd, Ballyphehane/Togher CDP, (left) and Maura Lombard, Ballyphehane Day Care Centre. 	Picture: Denis Minihane
Mary McGrath, who is 101, and the oldest participant in Ballyphehane Learning Neighbourhood, with Siobhán O’Dowd, Ballyphehane/Togher CDP, (left) and Maura Lombard, Ballyphehane Day Care Centre. Picture: Denis Minihane
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101-year-old Cork woman is proof that education never ends

THE secret to a long life is to never worry and to keep making friends, according to Cork centenarian Mary McGrath, the 101-year-old who proves that you’re never too old to learn new things.

“I’ll give you the secret - I never worried,” Ms McGrath told the Evening Echo.

“I had a grand time!” 

Ms McGrath, a member of the Ballyphehane Day Centre, has been involved with the community’s Learning Neighbourhood Project since it piloted the programme last year, even celebrating her 100th birthday with the entire community.

“I belong to the Ballyphehane Club here and it is outstanding,” Ms McGrath said.

The 101-year-old is a fantastic example of what can be achieved from the principles of lifelong learning, according to project coordinator Siobhan O’Dowd.

“It’s wonderful to have someone in the community who is 101 and still learning, who is really up for engaging with everybody who is around her,” Ms O’Dowd said.

In 2015, Cork became one of only 12 cities worldwide to be designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a ‘Learning City’, a prestigious accolade recognising Cork’s commitment to lifelong learning.

With a strong emphasis on social inclusion, the UNESCO Learning City award saw two neighbourhoods, Ballyphehane and Knocknaheeny, selected to pilot the Learning Neighbourhoods Programme.

Since Ballyphehane became a designated Learning Neighbourhood, the Day Care centre has worked together on cross-community workshops, intergenerational school sharing with local schools as well as plenty of arts and crafts.

The group also contributed to the ‘Faces of Learning’ project, a poster campaign documenting the faces of learning within the Ballyphehane community from the age of 0 to 100.

Ms McGrath became an integral part of the project early on and her enthusiasm for learning and interacting with her fellow members of the Day Centre was a joy to see, according to Ms O’Dowd.

To honour Ms McGrath’s achievements and commitment to the project, she was presented with an award at City Hall last year, Ms O’Dowd added.

“I remember in City Hall after she was presented with her parchment asking her had she enjoyed the year and she said it was the best year of her life and I thought well you know, that’s brilliant.

“It just shows that lifelong learning can happen at any age, you don’t need to stop, you just need to keep on being curious and Mary is a wonderful example that learning brings life and energy and good health and she really enjoys it. She loved being part of all the celebrations. 

"Our whole community got to celebrate her birthday and that made the centenary very special as well as the Learning Neighbourhoods Pilot.

"In the midst of the year, we celebrated Mary’s birthday, we had a big cake, big enough to feed 400 or so people who attended and a guard of honour who all came from locally,” Ms O’Dowd said.

“So she was honoured by her community and Ballyphehane has very strong connections to to 1916, all of the areas are named for the 1916 signatories so we had the 1916 committee there as well and to actually have someone who was born in that year was incredible.” 

As well as never worrying, making friends and indulging her sweet tooth occasionally, Ms McGrath also credits a lifelong passion for the cinema as one of the reasons for her joie de vivre.

“I always loved the pictures, I was walking in a dream with the pictures,” she said, adding that her favourite leading men are Clark Gable and Henry Fonda.