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They thought I'd die - centenarian who beat Spanish flu

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Michael J O’Connor

Michael J O’Connor

Michael J O’Connor

There are very few people alive today who lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic from 1918 to 1920, and fewer again who caught the killer flu but lived to tell the tale.

Michael J O'Connor, of Muckross, Co Kerry, can boast both accomplishments.

At 107, Mr O'Connor is one of the oldest people in Ireland and caught the Spanish Flu as a child.

Doctors had expected him to die before the age of six but he survived and lived a long and happy life.

Tragically, Mr O'Connor's mother died after catching the virus.

"Everything was going well until misfortune hit the family and we saw poor days," he told Brian O'Connell on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio One.

"We had no particular name for it, it was just the flu." he said.

"I got it, unfortunately mam didn't survive it but I got out of it all right, even though I wasn't expected to do so.

"As a young lad, I could see them crying after me as I was dying."

He discussed the similarities between the coronavirus pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic, pointing out that "some got it and some didn't".

Difficult

"Those that got it got a bad dose of it and didn't survive and some did," he said.

"There are always difficult times. There was never a time that wasn't difficult for somebody or for groups of people but we never experienced a worldwide difficulty like we are now.

"Every country and every body is affected."

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Viruses are not the only danger Mr O'Connor has encountered in his life, having worked as a radio operator on a boat that was torpedoed in World War II.

"We were torpedoed on August 18, 1942. A torpedo explodes underneath you and we were fairly well lifted out of it," he said.

Mr O'Connor said it had been a terrible experience but that the ship didn't lose anybody on that day, luckily.

He retired in 1980 after a long career in aviation and nowadays jokes that he has more years in retirement than years worked at this stage.

His nightcap is a mixture of whiskey and milk and he said the secret to a long life is "honesty - be honest in your dealings with everybody, be at peace with yourself and try and avoid doing wrong to anybody".

Mr O'Connor's full interview on Today with Claire Byrne can be found on the RTÉ website.

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