By Sarah Canty
‘Hard work and common food.’ These are the secrets to a long and fruitful life, according to Kitty O’Driscoll of Ballydehob, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday with nearly 100 of her friends and extended family.
What’s more, Kitty continues to bake for visitors, make her own dinner and tend to her own fire. Still this party was celebrating more than Kitty’s long life. This was a celebration of the spirit in which she lived it.
‘You couldn’t call without having some tea or cake or glass of whiskey. They just wouldn’t have it,’ echoed person after person on that misty Sunday afternoon as they reminisced about Kitty and her now deceased brothers Jackie and Eugene.
Neighbour Stevie Lynch said the O’Driscolls were known ‘far and away for their welcoming attitude. There was never any showing off, only friendliness and generosity for local people and friends.’
Of course it’s not just that people got something when they visited Kitty. There was something more valuable on offer. ‘You leave your troubles at the door and being here is a calming experience,’ said neighbour Barry O’Driscoll.
Neighbour Kathleen O’Sullivan added that, ‘there was never a cross word said in that house. Ever.’ It was a house full of ‘calmness, serenity and love’, she continued. ‘Never would you come in here and someone would look at their watch and say sorry I can’t talk to you now. That would never happen.’
‘This is what family and society should be about,’ said Dennis O’Donovan of Ballingurteen whose mother was second cousins with Kitty. ‘This is more than just about her – she is a symbol of what once was and what we still could be.’
Friends, neighbours and cousins of varying strengths and removes crammed into the well-kept farm house to hear Fr Pat O’Mahony celebrate mass. Kitty sat in her chair in the kitchen, greeted each visitor with open arms, and posed for dozens and dozens of pictures.
All were in terrific form as they shared story after story of how Kitty was like a granny to them then, and how Kitty is like a granny to their children now. How they would come to visit every weekend, or every summer, or every holiday, and would always be offered a nice orange lemonade as a child, eventually graduating to a nice glass of whiskey.
Just what did Kitty think of all the fuss? I asked. She nodded sweetly to indicate that it was very nice and then replied: ‘There was an awful crowd, like.’
And they were all there for her.