Sunday 17 December 2017

‘I’ve no secret - I’ve done the best I can’: Oldest Irish woman in history turns 113

Freya Drohan

Freya Drohan

Kathleen Hayes Rollins Snavely celebrated her birthday this month, making her the longest-living person ever born in Ireland.

The Co Clare native was born in 1902, and emigrated to Syracuse, New York when she was 19 years old.

Kathleen celebrated a monumental 113 years two days ago, meaning she is officially the oldest-living Irish person.

“I get so tired of people asking me about my secret. I've got no secret," she told her local newspaper The Syracuse Post-Standard on the day of her birthday party. “You live and you do it the best you can."

"You can't go through life thinking you're better than the other guy," she insists is her favourite piece of advice.

The spirited woman now lives in The Centers at St Camillus nursing home, where the staff describe her as “remarkably lucid”.

Though Kathleen is hard of hearing and uses a wheelchair to get around, she is still “clear of mind” and partakes in daily activities.

She loves to watch birds through her window and is inundated with family and friends visiting. According to staff at the home, she worries about the other people who never get visitors and she makes a point of stopping to speak with them regularly.

Kathleen, who doesn’t like being defined by her age, was born on February 16th 1902 in Feakle, Co Clare to Patrick and Ellen Hayes.

In 1921, Kathleen left her job as a business apprentice to emigrate to New York with just $25 in her pocket.

From the offset, Kathleen was determined to work hard and grow up to be someone her family could have been proud of.

“I'd heard about all the rich people on James Street, and about all the immigrants who worked in those houses, but I wasn't here to change sheets or wash clothes."

Staying with her uncle in Syracuse, she first worked at a school helping people with developmental disabilities.

After she met and married her first husband, a hard working cook named Roxie E. Rollins, and together the pair set up a dairy business.

"We learned on the job, through experience. If you have a feeling for management and enjoy it, experience will give you the skills."

“It was a Godsend. We were very much in love. It was the secret of our success."

Roxie died in 1968. Two years later, a 68-year-old Kathleen married her second husband Jesse Clark Snavely Jr.

In December, 2000, she honoured Roxie’s memory by making a gift of $1 million to the Syracuse University School of Management in his name.

“I can’t think of anything that would please him more than supporting a cause that would help other ambitious young people like us,” she said.

Every year, Kathleen and her friends celebrate her birthday. This year was no different. On Monday, they enjoyed a meal of baked haddock and birthday cake while Kathleen sipped on a Manhattan - her once a year cocktail.

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