Margaret Gallagher is up long before sunrise. 

There are very few people awake when the 74 year old (“and three quarters – don’t forget the three quarters”) is pottering about in her quaint thatched cottage in the townland of Mullylusty.

There’s the blazing fire to get going and the banana cake, boiled cake and scones to bake. There’s the fresh water to carry from the spring well in a nearby field for washing clothes and the floor. There are bags of logs and turf to fill and carry and all before nine o’clock.

“I tell you, I carry some turf, I also carry some water. I was born under Aquarius but nobody carries more water than I do,” smiled Miss Gallagher, in an interview with The Impartial Reporter.

Overlooking misty fields and blanket bog to Cuilcagh and, below it, the twin villages of Belcoo and Blacklion, is her home that is now over 280 years old and has never had running water, electricity, a television or a phone.

“People come to look at me as if I am an endangered species. That’s grand, I am very endangered. But it’s for real. I am not here to please an American tourist who is oo’ing and aah’ing, looking at me, saying, ‘I thought people in this lifestyle would have a long black skirt on them’. I say, ‘possibly, but if you see the path I have down to the well a long black skirt would need a washing.’”

With the front door open for circulation as the fire burns, there are double oil burners on the walls and the flames are reflected in mirrors to provide extra light. Every inch of Miss Gallagher’s home may reflect the past or a bygone era to some, but to her, this is her reality. It is her home.

“There never was a time for transition to something more modern. I was born into this house on January 26, 1942, at five past nine on a Monday morning. My mother died when I was ten, my father died in 1980. His father bought this house in 1887 and my take on it is if it was good enough for them then it’s good enough for me.”
There wasn’t a lot of money in those days but there was always an open door, she says.

“By God there was a welcome. There was no intrusion of a television, not that there is anything wrong with a television. I have a wind up radio which I listen to in the mornings to get the time, the day, the date and the news headlines. The problem with televisions and everything else there doesn’t seem to be an off button ever used.”
Miss Gallagher, who enjoys reading many books, fears that ‘solitude’ is now gone from society. 

“We were taught so much long ago from the monks of old, particularly the monks who lived on Cleenish Island, about solitude and hospitality. But that is gone now. When you talk to someone they are on a mobile phone or an iPad, there is no eye contact. I do think we are slipping on hospitality. I think the day of the open door is gone.”

Miss Gallagher believes “a period of silence or solitude should be encouraged in the house” to help cope with the pressures of life.
“I do think the hospitality has to go back on the agenda. There are some communities that are hospitable, there are others are not. Some ask you do you want a cup of tea but you never ask anyone if they want a cup of tea, you make it, you just get it there, full stop. If they don’t drink it, they don’t drink it. Tough luck, but at least you made it.”

And Miss Gallagher doesn’t just look after her family, friends and neighbours, but the birds, too.
“Oh, the birds are pretty expensive. It takes six loaves in the week, plus about three stone of bird seed to feed all the birds I have,” she laughed.
“I have the wren, Jenny I call her. Jenny seems to have a family; babies one day, adults the next. For her bodyweight she eats far too much, I keep saying this, and she’s there all the time, she never leaves me. I have the sparrows, the blackbirds, the magpies, the crows. I have the whole lot.” 

And she does. Miss Gallagher has everything she could possibly need. 
“This house is only one step away from the stable at Bethlehem, that’s all, and it is very, very special to me.” 
“Now, take another cup of tea before you go. And you’ll take a bit of banana cake home with you, too. Let me cover it in tinfoil...” smiled Miss Gallagher, ever the most hospitable of hosts.