The everlasting look of love
Pat Rushe (94), who used to joke that the first 50 years of marriage were the hardest, died last month, less than five weeks after his wife Mollie (92) had passed away.
"I won't be long after her," he softly confided to a nurse in the nursing home where they spent their final days.
After almost seven decades of wedded bliss, the farm labourer simply lost the inclination to live.
Theirs was an enduring love story set against the turbulent backdrop of the early years of the Irish Free State and World War Two.
Born a few kilometres apart in picturesque west Sligo, Pat Rushe and Mollie McMunn were in their early 20s when love blossomed on the local playing fields of Beltra.
Both won medals for their sporting prowess, Pat as a member of the county junior hurling team and Mollie for her camogie-playing skills.
Sean T O'Kelly was about to be elected the second president of the Irish Free State when the young couple married in the Church of SS Peter and Paul, Dromard, on June 6, 1945, a church Pat had helped to build as a teenager.
World War Two, which was by then raging on mainland Europe, seemed a world away from this rural parish nestled between the Ox Mountains and the wild Atlantic.
They arrived at the church on bicycles, the radiant bride resplendent in a navy suit and matching hat.
"Dad came from one direction. Mum came the other way. After the wedding ceremony they cycled back down to the main road to Beltra post office and got the bus into Sligo, where they had a meal in the Café Cairo on Wine Street," their tearful daughter Alice recalled to the Irish Independent.
The newlyweds headed for Bundoran in neighbouring Co Donegal for their honeymoon.
Then it was back to Beltra to start a marriage that would go on to endure three recessions and witness the election of eight Irish presidents, 19 heads of government and six popes.
They had two children, Eddie and Alice, later becoming grandparents to Diane, Adrian and Jason and great grandparents to Aoife, Callum and Tavie-May.
Alice believes the secret to the longevity of her parents' union lay in its simplicity.
"There were times when money was very scarce but they just made do. They loved each other. They kept it very simple. We never went hungry. There was always food on the table. They had no car for years but there were always Sunday walks.
"They might have had the odd argument. Mum would give out to Dad for reading the paper when she wanted to talk about something but that would be the height of it.
"They were inseparable. One wouldn't go anywhere without the other. If Dad was five minutes late, Mum would be in and out worrying that something had happened to him. That was just the way they were," she said.
As the years went by, their lives moved in gentle rhythm with the seasons.
Pat worked as a labourer for the owners of Tanrago and Carrowgarry estates, tending livestock, planting vegetables, cutting firewood and even making cheese. When the owners returned for holidays, Mollie was employed as a cook.
"Mum was a great cook and a great baker. Dinner was at half 12 every day and if you were even a few minutes late, she would say the dinner was spoilt!
"Dad was in the local dramatic society. He was involved in the Beltra Agricultural Show for 70 years. He was caretaker of Beltra Hall for 43 years," she said.
After their children married and moved away, Mollie and Pat -- always armed with a pair of wellingtons and a chainsaw -- would visit, laden with home-grown vegetables, turf and firewood.
Holidays were a rarity. Once they won a trip to Butlin's in a senior citizens' draw. Their first foreign holiday took place around 14 years ago, when they visited their son Eddie and his family, who were living in Lanzarote at the time.
Without fail, they remembered each other's birthday and wedding anniversary, with sweets replacing gifts and money in latter years.
When Mollie had to move to Nazareth House Nursing Home following a fall two years ago, the couple pined for each other so much that they were reunited in the nursing home last September.
Pat would visit Mollie before they headed for lunch every day, he with his walking aid, Mollie in a wheelchair.
Again in the afternoon, he would visit her room and chat some more. Earlier on the night she died, he sat chatting with her until after 10pm.
Mollie passed away in the early hours of December 11 last the age of 92. On January 13, Pat died at the age of 94.
"He really didn't want to go on after Mum died. He was broken-hearted. I always knew if one went the other would go. But they had a happy life together," said Alice.
Inseparable in death as in life, the couple are laid to rest side by side in Skreen cemetery.