County Mayo native Mae Collins will be celebrating her 107th birthday along with the people of Westchester on St. Patrick’s Day as she rides through the parade in an open top convertible. The young at heart immigrant has been featured in the parade for several years now.
“As a rule, we go dancing,” Collins told the Daily News. Her joint St. Patrick’s Day and birthday celebration is always marked by attending the Emerald Society of Putnam County’s dinner dance, where she always insists on dancing to ‘Moonlight in Mayo.’
The feisty grandmother shared her secret to longevity: “Shot of rye, four o’clock in the afternoon.”
Collins emigrated to America in 1922 when she was only 17 years old. She came over to New York aboard the Baltic with over 2000 other immigrants. She left behind a farm lifestyle in Mayo, one that she never felt quite suited for.
“They wanted me to marry a farmer in Ireland, a neighbor.” she recalled. “I said, ‘No thank you.’ I said, ‘Yankeeland is the place for me.’ My poor dad — they thought they’d have me for a neighbor.”
Collins still recounts her processing through Ellis Island before meeting up with two of her aunts who lived stateside. “They were afraid you’d bring germs,” she recalled. “They took my clothes and they sterilized them. You should see the way my clothes came out!”
Shortly after arriving in New York City, she got a job as a house keeper on Riverside Drive, where she remembers marvelling at the stove.
“I liked this country,” she said. “I was tired of the farm.”
In 1930, she met her husband Martin Collins, a fellow Irish immigrant, and a year later the two married. They went on to have two children, Martin and Peg. After living in the Upper East Side, Mae and Martin moved to Astoria where they stayed for 39 years before moving again to Yorktown Heights.
In 1981, Martin and Mae renewed their vows for their 50th wedding anniversary. Martin died 8 years later, but Mae still remembers him fondly.
“He was a very good-looking man,” she said. “He lives in heaven now.”
Since turning 100, Mae has received a medal of honor every year from the President of Ireland to commemorate her long life. Her ties to Ireland remain strong, and even her Mayo accent has survived decades of living in America.
Mae is cared for by a live-in health aide, as well as younger neighbors and family members. She is quite looking forward to her appearance in the Westchester St. Patrick’s Day parade again this year, an event that she has taken part in for several years now.
“You’ve got the grand dame sitting there,” she said. “Just keep waving, I hardly have any arms left by the time I get home.”