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Marie Kerrisk who is 104.
Marie Kerrisk who is 104.
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Aged 104... I lived life and took the ups with the downs

SO what is the secret to a happy, healthy and long life? According to 104-year-old Castletownbere native, Marie Kerrisk, who lived in Skibbereen and Kinsale and now resides in Bishopstown — there is none.

She says: “I just lived my life, and I took the ups with the downs and thanked the Lord that I have escaped so far.”

Marie Kerrisk (nee Murphy) turned 104 on May 28. She has four daughters, six grandchildren and two great granddaughters.

Even if the short term memory might naturally fail her sometimes, she remembers a lot of things — from regattas of West Cork gone by, to the outbreak of World War II.

“My first memory is being in a cot with a ball frame on the side of it. My brother Brendan, who was a year older, was in another cot beside me.”

Her childhood, she says, was “happy and carefree”.

“My two older siblings had serious illnesses when they were young, Gertie had scarlet fever and was in the fever hospital for a spell and Brendan had bronchial pneumonia.”

Being the third child and healthy meant she was left to her own devices.

“There were six of us in the family, four girls and two boys, all very close in age.”

Being cousins, with the Harrington kids, the McCarthys and the Hanleys, they played together very often.

“We were in and out of all the houses,” recalls Marie.

The Kerrisk family on an outing to Dunboy Castle (Marie front, second right), her mother May is in the doorway on the left with a white hat
The Kerrisk family on an outing to Dunboy Castle (Marie front, second right), her mother May is in the doorway on the left with a white hat

Growing up so close by the sea, they all learned to swim and row boats.

“The Regatta was a big occasion, as were the Allihies races.”

Being a young child in the days where there were little or no televisions, she remembers: “We lived over our shop, Murphy’s, and the window was our television — we could see the boats coming and going from Bere Island and on a Fair Day the fighting and commotion out on the road.”

The First World War was a boom time for Castletownbere and all the businesses in the town prospered (including the family shop, Murphy’s Stores). Huge battleships filled the bay and all had to be supplied by the town.

When that war ended, the War of Independence had begun. Marie recalls: “I remember the Black and Tans threatening to take my father out and shoot him.

“The 1920s and ’30s were difficult times also economically. We all had to help out and do our bit in the shop. Aged 16 or 17, I made arrangements to go nursing in England. My father said he needed me to keep the business going so l didn’t go.

“Shops those days were very different. Everything arrived in bulk, then had to be weighed and put into bags and packages.”

Marie Kerrisk at the wheel of her Baby Ford and her sister Winnie (left) and a friend are sitting on the running board.
Marie Kerrisk at the wheel of her Baby Ford and her sister Winnie (left) and a friend are sitting on the running board.

But, she says, it wasn’t all work. Fondly, the 104-year-old, thinks back.

“We made time for dances, tennis and golf. I saved up and bought my own car (a ‘Baby Ford’). I went on a trip with my sister Winnie and drove to Clare, Galway and Donegal.”

But one trip quickly turned into a shocking experience.

“We arrived at the border to see soldiers with guns and heard that the Second World War had broken out.”

After the war, when her daughters Annette, Rosemary, Aeveen and Eilish were born, Marie lived in Skibbereen. Her husband Pat ran the creamery in the town. But Marie got to see the world. “I like and always enjoyed travelling,” she says

Also, her daughter Aeveen travelled and lived abroad a lot.

“I visited her in the USA. I found New York very frightening, with all the people and all the rushing about. I visited her in Greece. I liked that.”

She adds: “My last trip abroad was to my grandson Hugo’s wedding in Germany. I was 95.”

Marie Kerrisk accepting Carbery Cup from Club President Mrs Dolly Wood Wolfe, at Skibbereen Golf Club in 1959
Marie Kerrisk accepting Carbery Cup from Club President Mrs Dolly Wood Wolfe, at Skibbereen Golf Club in 1959

Within Ireland, she still travels. Every Christmas, Marie visits her daughter Rosemary in Omagh and Donegal.

After all those decades, are there any regrets, or something she would have liked to have done differently?

“I would love to have studied English. I would love to have had more education. I read a lot, that was my education.”

Having lived in Castletownbere, Skibbereen, Kinsale and now Bishopstown in Cork, is there a place she liked best?

“That is hard to say. I enjoyed all the places l lived. I spent the longest time in Skibbereen (50 years). I enjoyed the golf, tennis and bridge, and the sense of community there. Our children grew up there and had opportunities l didn’t have myself. When I left Castletownbere for Skibbereen, I enjoyed my new life but missed my family and I missed the sea.”

Later, she moved to Kinsale when she was 87 to live with her daughter Annette.

“My husband Pat was ill and I could no longer manage on my own. Pat died shortly after in Kinsale hospital. I joined Kinsale Bridge Club and made many new friends who now visit me here in Cork.”

Just before her 100th birthday, Marie moved to Cork to live with her daughter Eilish and her family.

She says: “I’m less active now, but I still read the Irish Examiner every day. So I keep up with what’s going on!”

For her next birthday party, she would like to have all her family with her, she says, including her two great-granddaughters, who live in Germany and sometimes video chat on the laptop with their “Gran”.

Does she have any advice for the children?

“Yes. Be true to yourselves and approach life intelligently.” she says.

“Enjoy yourselves but do remember that there is another life up ahead. Oh, and enjoy sport.”