Mary Cosgrove doesn’t let her age get in the way of her busy weekly schedule which includes bingo four nights a week, church meetings, attending mass and visiting the sick.
“I like being able to do a bit of good,” said the 95-year-old, who is a well-known figure in the Maguiresbridge community.
The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency recently found that the population of over 85s has been increasing by around 900 people each year for the past decade.
Mary does not know why people are living longer, particularly since communities “were more self-sufficient in the past, there were no chemicals in the food” and there were less traffic accidents and people dying of cancer.
Reflecting on her life, she told The Impartial Reporter: “It’s sad that you are so near death. I am reasonably well for my age. I would like to be better but I have the sense to know you can’t turn the clock back.”
Born on March 3, 1922 at Tattenbar, Mary attended the Knocks school until she was 14. She then worked on the family farm and enjoyed knitting Aran jumpers in her spare time.
She married at 29 and moved to her new husband John’s farm at Colehill, Lisnaskea. She began working as a school cook, first in Corranny where she had “manys a laugh”, followed by St. Mary’s Primary School in Brookeborough where she worked from the age of 58 until she retired at 65.
“I asked to work on but they couldn’t let me because of insurance,” said Mary.
During her retirement years she moved to Maguiresbridge and began childminding for two families, becoming very attached to the children in her care.
“I’ve been at three of their weddings and one of the christenings. And the child was given the name Mary,” she explained.
“One of them went off to New Zealand and before he left he said: ‘I’m leaving you Mary.’ He invited me up to the house for a family meal – I haven’t got a postcard yet though,” she laughed.
Living at home with her daughter Siobhan is a blessing for Mary, who quipped: “Some days I don’t know how she puts up with me!”
Losing her husband and siblings were “very sad” times but Mary took a lot of comfort from her faith.
“I wouldn’t get through life without God, holy water and Saint Anthony,” she commented.
“Our priests have great power and they are so good at visiting people, especially those on their death bed. It is a great joy for the families to know that their loved one is being helped into the next life,” she added, recounting her husband’s passing in hospital, an experience she described as “sad and peaceful.”
One of her greatest annoyances in life is that “young people don’t get the credit they deserve.”
“If they do something wrong, it’s in the papers or on TV but if they do something right, there’s not a word about it,” she said. “I was out walking and there was a gang of fellas who wouldn’t have a great name. One of them said: ‘Do you need help across the street Mrs. Cosgrove?’ and he walked out into the middle of the road and stopped the cars. I can’t forget that. But if he had shoved me off the footpath, it would have been in the papers.
“There’s an awful lot of good people out there and everyone is so good to me,” she said.
A number of recent falls and broken bones have upset Mary, who is “not as supple as I used to be.”
Outlining her experience of hospitals, she said she was annoyed to spend seven hours in the South West Acute Hospital Emergency Department getting various x-rays after breaking her wrist. “I had to ask for a cup of tea and it was cold,” said the 95-year-old. “I was sent to Dundonald for 10.15am on a Sunday and got a lift up with a family member,” Mary continued. “The hospitality there was unbelievable. I was met at the door with a wheelchair and there was not one of them that went past me that didn’t stop to talk to me – Enniskillen didn’t have the same hospitality,” she believes.
“I would voice my opinion,” Mary continued, “I inherited that from my father.”
“I had a good life – there were ups and downs but it has been good,” she added.
For 62 years, Mary has been a member of the Legion of Mary (where members participate in the life of the parish through visiting families and the sick in their homes and in hospitals.) She relinquished her role as officer when her hearing deteriorated which was a blow, but she still attends meetings and is often called upon for advice.
She was a keen bowler in her time, recalling: “I enjoyed it. It was inexpensive and fun.”
A regular at bingo in Newtownbutler, Derrylin, Tempo and Brookeborough each week, Mary commented: “It would be easier on the pocket if I cut back but God could cut me off anytime so I’ll keep going as long as I can.”
Her TV “is like someone in the corner” and she turns it up when her favourite programmes come on – the soaps, The Chase and Countdown.
Mary’s secret to long life is: “Hard work, make yourself as happy as you can, do as many good deeds as you can and forget about anyone who hurts you.”