Sunday 25 February 2018

Meet four over-65s who are proving you're only as old as you feel

To mark positive ageing week, Arlene Harris meets four over-65s who are proving you're only as old as you feel

Reign man: Brendan Dunne (67) will be taking part in the Reign Of Terror race in Kells on October 21. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Reign man: Brendan Dunne (67) will be taking part in the Reign Of Terror race in Kells on October 21. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Arlene Harris

Sixty-five is the new 40 - or at least it is if you believe the slogan of Positive Ageing Week, the Bank of Ireland-sponsored awareness campaign which runs this week.

That might be pushing it a little, but what's definitely true is that we're living longer, living better and are far more active in our later years than the generations who came before us.

Many of the old rules just don't apply and today older people are taking advantage of good health and more free time to revisit their education, start a new business and even find a daring new hobby.

We spoke to four trailblazers about the new directions they're pursuing later in life and asked them how they've redefined old age.

Audrey Shorten

Audrey may be keeping within the speed limit when she drives around Cork City, but is definitely living life in the fast lane despite heading for her 68th birthday in December.

"I don't have any intention of slowing down or taking a back seat in life," says the taxi driver who lives in Cork with her husband Roy. "I decided 11 years ago that I wanted to drive a cab as I had often looked at the men sitting there in the taxi rank waiting for a fare and thought I would love to give it a go.

Audrey Shorten may be keeping within the speed limit when she drives around Cork City, but is definitely living life in the fast lane despite heading for her 68th birthday in December
Audrey Shorten may be keeping within the speed limit when she drives around Cork City, but is definitely living life in the fast lane despite heading for her 68th birthday in December

"I mentioned it to Roy, who thought I was joking, but I went off and got my licence and only told the family when I had it all in place. They thought I wouldn't last the year but I have been doing it for 11 years now and really love it."

The mother-of-one works as a taxi driver and also gives tours to visitors off the cruise ships to Cobh. And although she has had more than her fair share of hairy moments, she has no intention of slowing down any time soon.

"I drive the cab five days a week," she says. "I often do nights as well and take ship passengers on tours and that's great fun as I have to be their guide, so have learned loads about the area - so far I have done 20 groups of four this year.

"But it's not always easy as twice I was almost robbed - the first time I saw a knife in a fella's hand so I was prepared when we stopped and he threatened me. I just roared in his face and jumped out and he ran away only to be caught by the guards half an hour later.

Donal Denham last year set up a branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Dun Laoghaire - and says it has given him a whole new lease of life and a reason to get up in the morning.
Donal Denham last year set up a branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Dun Laoghaire - and says it has given him a whole new lease of life and a reason to get up in the morning.

"And the second time was funny as there were two guys in the car - I knew the fella in the front and when his friend took out a knife, I told the guy in front that I knew him so he got a fright and told his friend to forget about it. But despite those incidents, I love what I do and have every intention of carrying on for a long as I can - I tell people I will retire when I'm six feet under."

Betty Smith

At 81 years of age, Betty could be forgiven for putting her feet up but instead she is busy promoting her marmalade business and looking for new contracts for the venture she started when she was 75.

"I started making marmalade with poitin in 2011 when I needed to pay a hefty bill and had no money," she says. "So I had the idea of making a unique product and after a few trial sessions, my marmalade was perfected.

"After attending some business lessons, I got to grips with the marketing side of things and then everything started to take off and I began selling my marmalade in earnest. These days, I supply over 40 stores and am hoping to expand."

Lady marmalade: Betty Smith has no plans to slow down after launching her marmalade business. Photo: Emma Jervis
Lady marmalade: Betty Smith has no plans to slow down after launching her marmalade business. Photo: Emma Jervis

Betty, whose daughter lives in the UK, says age should not be a barrier to ambition and she plans to keep going for as long she is enjoying her craft.

"Age is just a number," she says. "And I have no plans to curtail my business or anything else in life - like the cowboys, I plan to die with my boots on."

Brendan Dunne

Brendan takes part in the Reign of Terror Obstacle race in Kells on October 21. As the oldest entrant, the father of three was encouraged to get involved by his daughter Donna and since he signed up, all of his children (who are now adults) are joining him.

"Although I played a lot of sport in my day, I've never done anything like this before and haven't done any running for 20 years, so this is a massive challenge," says the Wexford man.

"I have prepared for it by adding a little jogging to my daily walk with the dog and going out on my bike a bit more - I'm no Sean Kelly but I do an hour into town and back at a steady pace so, along with the running, I'm getting there, slowly."

The 67-year-old, who used to work as a dental technician, says while he isn't actually looking forward to the race itself, the preparation is very motivating and after he passes the finishing line, intends to set himself another goal.

"Signing up for the race was brilliant for me because even though I'm dreading it, I like the idea of having something to aim towards," he says. "I know I'm not a young lad anymore but doing this sort of stuff makes me feel young. After this event I'll probably need an incentive again as I'm not good at motivating myself, but I am enjoying this and I don't want to stop.

"Getting older isn't easy, but today is the oldest we have ever been and the youngest we will ever be again so we should live today like it is our last."

Donal Denham

Donal worked in the Foreign Office for over 40 years when, abruptly at the age of 65, he had to take retirement.

Having spent his entire adult life travelling around the world, making important decisions and meeting deadlines, he was totally unprepared for the reality of having "no purpose in life".

So unable to sit about twiddling his thumbs, the former Irish ambassador decided to do something about it and last year set up a branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Dun Laoghaire - and says it has given him a whole new lease of life and a reason to get up in the morning.

"I had been working all of my life until one Friday evening, after I turned 65, I had to retire and the following Monday morning I literally did not know what to do with myself," says the Dublin man. "I was on the brink of meandering into oblivion when, on a trip to Australia, I came across a group called U3A, where retired people got together on a regular basis to attend lectures, listen to motivational speakers and generally continue the learning they have enjoyed throughout their lives.

"I thought this would be a wonderful idea to bring back to Ireland and when I came home, I looked into it and found that Age Action already had some groups going - so I decided to set one up in my area."

Donal, who is married to Siobhan and has four grown children, advertised his intention and was contacted by a lady in her 80s who was also interested. The pair, along with a few others, held an open evening where they expected 20 more to show up - but, to their surprise, the meeting was attended by 90 others.

"Right from the beginning, we had a huge interest in the group so we had to find a bigger venue and set about organising lecturers and speakers to come and address the members," he says. "We started out with a meeting every fortnight but now we have one every week and have added German conversation classes and current affairs talks to the schedule - it's really interesting and everyone seems to be enjoying it."

The 67-year-old says while he will be chairing the steering group for the next couple of years, once he hands the reins over, he will be looking for another challenge.

"Setting up U3A has really been motivating and I have enjoyed using my mind again and having a purpose," he says. "I have some more ideas in the pipeline for when I step down from this role as it's really important to challenge myself and validate my life. I don't believe people should take a back seat in life just because they have reached a certain age - in fact, I think once you slow down, you never get the chance to speed up again."

Irish Independent

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