Moya Connelly may be 94 years old but she’s not about to stop and worry about it. Margaret Jennings meets the recently crowned Grandparent of the Year

SHE did her Leaving Certificate in 1941, but that didn’t stop Moya O’Connell from having a go at sitting the Junior Cert English and History papers a couple of years ago, in her early 90s, just to keep her brain active.

When it came to collecting her results she got an A in History and a B in English, something she just took in her stride, despite the 75-year gap since she had last sat a State exam. The urge to sit the papers as a challenge, came when she was attending a creative writing class, which she still goes to weekly to write poetry.

While she liked to dabble in writing poetry as a schoolgirl, there was little encouragement: “It was seen as a waste of time – a waste of good study time,” she says.

Little did the teenage girl realise back then, that seven decades down the line, she would have pursued her interest, or that she would attend classes to learn how to something called a computer, at age 86.

It’s not surprising that this week the Dublin-based grandmother of five, who was 94 last August, was announced Grandparent of the Year winner.

Moya took the award in a national competition organised by Specsavers, in association with Third Age, the national voluntary organisation, to recognise the benefits of an ageing population and to celebrate the special role that grandparents play in the lives of Irish families and the community.

It was Moya’s youngest grand-daughter, out of five, 18-year-old Hannah, who nominated her for the award when she saw the forms at a Specsavers branch.

The teenager’s admiration for her gran’s ability to grab life with both hands, shone through. Although Moya says her longevity is in her genes, her sparkling get-up-and-go attitude would put many a quarter of her age, in the shade.

“It wasn’t that I have been minding myself!” she says. “I tell everyone that I drink real milk and I use real butter and put a pinch of salt on everything — all the forbidden things.

“My mother was 96 when she died and my father 80 and my two grandmothers were 97 and 98. My older brother died three years ago and my younger brother, who is a priest in Brazil, is 91,” she says.

She learned how to use a computer eight years ago so she could Skype with her brother on her laptop. “I also wanted to keep up with the grandchildren too. That’s why I went back to school to learn about computers. They had their mobile phones, their computers, so I just wanted to be able to talk to them about it.”

Moya agrees with the perspective that she could step back and enjoy her grandkids without having to worry about them, unlike with her own children. She looks at a cushion beside her which one of them gave her, which pronounces: ‘Grandchildren, all of the pleasure and none of the pain’ and has a right giggle.

Life wasn’t always easy for the mother of two, either. She returned part-time to her nursing career after her husband died, aged 41 leaving her with a little boy and girl, Eamon and Sinead, one aged two years and the other two months.

She has paved her own determined path though and has lived in the Navan Road for the past 60 years, since she first got married. From there her life is obviously still very full, over half a century since becoming a single parent.

She gave up driving the car at the age of 91: “I stopped because I thought the family were getting worried about me driving, so I said I’d give it up before I was told to give it up!” That evidently hasn’t stalled her curiosity and interest in life though. She likes painting and also goes to an art class and plays cards weekly with her friends some of whom are in their late 80s.

She enjoys a social drink — a gin and 7Up. “I had a pioneer pin until I was 30-something. But if I’m out with my friends that’s when I would have one now.”

Moya was one of four provincial finalists in the Grandparent of the Year competition before a panel, including judges from Specsavers and Third Age, chose her as the winner. She receives a weekend away in Ireland, a Grandparent of the Year trophy and a €750 voucher for Specsavers, while Hannah wins an iPad Air.

No doubt Moya will have great fun planning her weekend and bringing her trademark curiosity to Hannah’s iPad.


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