At 108 years old, Sarah Clancy of Sruthán, Carraroe, Co. Galway, has spent 58 years of her life in Ireland and 50 in the US. She remembers the Titanic and meeting Roger Casement. And now, according to a wonderful interview with Seán Ó Mainnín of Tuairisc.ie, she is the oldest living person in Ireland.
Clancy was known to friends and family for declining to celebrate her birthday and to wryly claiming to be either 21 or 200 when asked her age. But nine years ago the jig was up when she received the first of her Centenarian’s Bounty checks, a monetary gesture the Irish State gives to its century-old citizens, and a new envelope has arrived each year since.
Sarah Theresa Clancy was born on May 2, 1908, in Sruthán, An Cheathrú Rua in Connemara, Tuairisc.ie reports – eight years before the 1916 Easter Rising. She was one of eight children born to Mary and Tom, a farmer, who stood out locally for being able to speak English in addition to the locally used Irish. “Ardnósach” (snobby) is how Clancy describes him because of it.
When Clancy was in school at An Cheathrú Rua, English was the only language spoken in class, so she had to learn, too. She recalls Roger Casement visiting when she was five years old, in 1912, and that was also the year the owner of the doomed Titanic arrived to hide away at the nearby and secluded Casla Lodge.
Once out of school, Clancy worked as a maid at the Cladhnach Lodge and sometimes carried secret messages for her brother, Patrick, a republican fighting the British. She also told the Tribune that their family’s shed was used as a makeshift prison for Free Staters and informers.
She never married, recalling how, at the time, most marriages were an arranged transaction in which a man paid a visit to a woman’s family bearing a gift of a bottle of whiskey. “Níl said ag iarraidh bean ach asal” (“it’s not a woman they want but a donkey”), she told Ó Mainnín.
Instead, in 1938, at the age of 30, she emigrated to the US with her sister Anne, joining their sister Mary in the Dorchester area of Boston. She would remain in the US for half a century, working as a maid and cook in a number of houses in Brookline and sending money back home when she could.
Clancy returned to Ireland, to her family home, in 1988 at the age of 80, following the death of her sister Anne. She told Tuairisc.ie that she got in a good eight years of babysitting her great-grandnieces and nephews, before starting to take it a bit easier at the age of 95.
She still resides at home, cared for by her nephew Petie Mac Donagh and his wife, Patricia. Though she occasionally needs care at a nearby nursing home, she didn’t need the assistance of a wheelchair until this year and prefers to remain in the family house, kept company by a cat named Snowy. He other creature comforts are a cup of tea and a chat in Irish.
Clancy became Ireland’s oldest living citizen in July, following the death of Co. Clare woman Nora Canavan, who was three months Clancy’s senior. The torch had been passed to Canavan in January of this year after Molly Madden of Co. Mayo passed away at 109 years of age.
The longest living person in Irish history was Kathleen Hayes Rollins Snavely of Co. Clare, who also emigrated to the US and spent the majority of her life in Syracuse, NY. She passed away in July 2015 at the grand age of 113 years and 40 days.