104-year-old Cork woman who survived Spanish flu urges everyone to stay in, stay safe

And the secret of her long and happy life? "I never married and had lot of friends," she said.
104-year-old Cork woman who survived Spanish flu urges everyone to stay in, stay safe

Family, friends, and neighbours turn out to celebrate Mary McGrath’s 104th birthday outside her home off Barrack St in Cork city. They were joined by Lord Mayor John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress, Aedamar Sheehan. Mary was born on Easter Monday 1916 and still lives independently. Picture: Clare Keogh
Family, friends, and neighbours turn out to celebrate Mary McGrath’s 104th birthday outside her home off Barrack St in Cork city. They were joined by Lord Mayor John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress, Aedamar Sheehan. Mary was born on Easter Monday 1916 and still lives independently. Picture: Clare Keogh

A woman who lived through the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic has urged people to "stay in and stay safe" to keep Covid-19 under control.

Mary McGrath, from the southside of Cork city, made her birthday wish today as her family and neighbours united to mark her 104th birthday, organised by her nephew Danny.

Cocooning strictly for the last five weeks, she said: “I just enjoy people and like to stay connected with people. I would have loved to have invited everyone into the house for a cup of tea after the celebration today. But I would ask people to stay in, stay safe and be kind."

Ms McGrath had to withdraw from her daily routine of activities at the Ballyphehane Community Centre, including arts, music, games and crafts, when the lockdown was announced.

Honoured by UCC four years ago for her involvement in lifelong learning, she has been cocooning strictly at home for the last five weeks, thanks to the support of her extended family and neighbours.

Video: Larry Cummins

But today, in line with physical distancing guidelines, they all gathered in the square outside her home to wish her a happy birthday.

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress, Aedamar Sheehan, even popped along with a cake.

“It was my honour to attend Mary’s birthday celebrations. Mary has long been at the heart of her local community and is loved by young and old in that area. She’s a local legend," Mr Sheehan said.

Siobhan O’Dowd, project coordinator of the Ballyphehane Togher Community Development Project, said Ms McGrath has been a shining example of how to cocoon.

She has been very strong about the social distancing - only allowing the public health nurse in - because she has an eye on the future.

"She’’s just such a lovely woman to have in your life, with her open smile and how her eyes light up. But when this is all over, she is really looking forward to getting back to her activities with her friends," she added.

Ms McGrath was born on Easter Monday, 1916, as the Easter Rising took place. Within two years, she faced the Spanish flu epidemic.

She went on to work in Joyce’’s lemonade factory in Cork city, before she got a job in UCC’’s dairy science department where she recalls the joy of testing ice-creams.

And the secret of her long and happy life?

"I never married and had lot of friends," she said.

Ms O’Dowd said: "If Mary McGrath, who was born on the day of the Easter Rising, is a reflection of the health of the State, well our State is in a very good place - a state which has community, relationships and friendship as its cornerstones."

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