Tuesday 25 July 2017

Armagh family oldest in the world - with a Guinness Record to prove it

From left to right: Kathleen (75), Seamus (80), Terry (81), Rose (85), Tony (83), Sean (93), Mairead (86), Leo (72), Eileen (90), Maureen (92) and Peter (87) with BBC documentary maker Paul Muldoon. Photo: BBC
From left to right: Kathleen (75), Seamus (80), Terry (81), Rose (85), Tony (83), Sean (93), Mairead (86), Leo (72), Eileen (90), Maureen (92) and Peter (87) with BBC documentary maker Paul Muldoon. Photo: BBC
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A group of Armagh siblings - with a combined age of 1,073 years - are celebrating after receiving the Guinness World Record for being the oldest family on Earth.

The 13 brothers and sisters, Sean (93), Maureen (92), Eileen (90), Peter (87), Mairead (86), Rose (85), Tony (83), Terry (81), Seamus (80), Brian (76), Kathleen (75), Colm (73) and Leo (72) were awarded the Guinness World Record for the siblings with the highest combined age in March but celebrated the achievement this week.

The Northern Irish family from Collegelands on the Armagh/Tyrone border came together on Sunday to mark their entry into this year's Guinness Book of World Records at their childhood home.

Although a day of celebration, the gathering was also an emotional occasion, as the idea to register the siblings for the record was that of the family's youngest sibling, Austin Donnelly, who sadly died in 2015.

Austin's twin Leo (72), now the family's youngest member, said getting everyone together for the celebration was "almost impossible" but it meant a lot to honour his brother's memory.

"At my sister Maureen's 90th birthday, my twin brother Austin said we must be the oldest family in the world. It was a fly-away remark but it grew legs and we began making enquiries into registering for the Guinness World Record.

An archive image of the Donnelly family outside their Collegelands home. Photo: BBC
An archive image of the Donnelly family outside their Collegelands home. Photo: BBC

"We lost Austin on Christmas Day in 2015 and after that there was even more of a determination to get ourselves verified and into that book, in his memory. After Austin died, it took a number of years off what we needed to make that record, but after 13 months we made it up again.

"It was a great day on Sunday, we came together from all over, Mairead came from Coventry and then some of us are in Dublin, Belfast, and then from all over Northern Ireland.

"It was an emotional day as well because Austin wasn't there to celebrate with us. I could hardly make my little speech there was a lump in my throat," said Leo.

The siblings are the children of Peter and Ellen Donnelly, who welcomed 16 children throughout their marriage. While Leo said his dad "died young" at 79, his mother Ellen Mullen lived well into her 90s.

The Guinness World Records Certificate. Photo: BBC
The Guinness World Records Certificate. Photo: BBC

The parents tragically lost their youngest son Michael (25) in 1975 following a car accident, while Oliver passed away at age 64 after a battle with cancer.

Despite fathering 16 children, Leo's father Peter had been an only child, while his mother Ellen was one of 14.

The siblings are the subject of a BBC documentary 'The World's Oldest Family'.

Irish Independent

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