Meet the Guinness Book of Records oldest family who swear by a daily bowl of porridge

So, what is the secret of longevity? writes Clodagh Finn

If anyone should know it’s the world’s oldest family, an honour bestowed on Irish family the Donnellys, who were named the oldest living family on earth by the Guinness Book of Records earlier this year.

The 13 Armagh siblings have a combined age of 1,075, a record-breaking achievement that has earned them attention from as far away as New Zealand and America.

“I’m a worldwide star,” the youngest of the bunch, Leo, 72, says, with a mischievousness that shows his positive outlook on life.

His brothers and sisters have the same sort of down-to-earth attitude, although it’s hard to get them all in the one place at the same time. However, they did all gather at their childhood family home at Collegelands in Moy, Dungannon on the Armagh/Tyrone border, to mark their entry into this year’s Guinness Book of Records.

And for the record, here is the impressive age-defying line-up: Sean, 93, Maureen, 92, Eileen, 90, Peter, 87, Mairead, 86, Rose, 85, Tony, 83, Terry, 81, Seamus, 80, Brian, 76, Kathleen, 75, Colm, 74, and Leo, 72.

Sadly, Austin, Leo’s twin, the one who first thought the family might be record-breakers, died in an accident in 2015. Two other siblings have also passed away.

Michael died in a car crash in 1975 and Oliver died of cancer, aged 64.

Leo, who still lives in the family home, says he is sorry that Austin wasn’t there to see the family gain recognition but says he’s delighted to be able to advertise the benefits of simple, natural living.

And top of that list of simple goodness is porridge.

The family has teamed up with Flavahan’s for National Porridge Week, which runs all of this week, to highlight the benefits of the humble oat.

Leo is a big fan and says he enjoys porridge with a dollop of Victorian plum jam. “I make my own bread and jam,” he says.

Porridge was always a staple in the Donnelly household and Leo’s father, Peter, started and finished his day with a bowl.

Oats were an important part of the family’s diet, but the fact that the siblings were raised on organic, pesticide-free farm produce played a huge role in their health and longevity, they believe.

Peter and Ellen Donnelly started farming 20 acres but later bought a 100-acre farm where they grew a wide range of produce — potatoes, apples, sprouts, strawberries, raspberries and, in greenhouses, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The family exported potatoes and apples to Britain. Their apples were used by cider-makers and also in Mr Kipling’s pies.

“We also had pure-bred Rhode Island chickens and pigs. We butchered a pig and smoked and salted it and kept it in a big tea chest — that was our food for the winter.”

There was no alcohol or smoking either. “Just pillow fights and plenty of exercise,” says Leo.

But getting back to porridge, it ticks all the right boxes as a health food, according to nutritionist Nuala Collins. “If you could design a food that was extremely healthy you could not improve on oats, which we commonly consume as porridge.”

Here are six reasons why oats are considered a superfood:

  • Porridge is 100% natural with no added sugar, salt or additives and it’s naturally low in calories.
  • It has a low glycemic index (GI) and research has found that people who eat foods with a low GI are less likely to binge on sugary snacks.
  • It is high in complex carbohydrates and soluble fibre, so releases energy slowly. A bowl of porridge at breakfast should provide all the energy you need until lunchtime.
  • Porridge can help lower cholesterol. The type of fibre contained in oats, beta-glucan, is an active ingredient that helps decrease LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or harmful cholesterol).
  • Oats contain phytochemicals, naturally occurring chemicals in plants, as well as the antioxidant, flavonoid, both of which, according to numerous studies, help prevent heart disease and cancer.
  • People who suffer from Type 2 diabetes are encouraged to include porridge in their daily diets as it can help control and stabilise blood-sugar levels.

Check out tasty porridge recipes here


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