106 year-old Máirín has a background in chemistry and experimental physics

By Maurice Garvey

DURING the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19, which killed at least 50 million worldwide, Máirín Hughes recalls dropping food supplies to the doorstep of sick neighbours and “running away”.

“I remember the Spanish Flu. Thanks be to God there was nobody sick in our house,” said Máirín, who was born in 1914 and celebrated her 106th birthday this week at Maryfield Nursing Home in Chapelizod.

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Máirín Hughes celebrates her 106th birthday with a glass of sherry and below  (Image: Echo reporter Maurice Garvey)

“We were living a mile outside Killarney, in Rathmore. A couple of elderly people were sick. I would go with my older brothers Ruaridh and Conn to leave food at their door and run away. My mother would always help with the neighbours.”

Over 100 years later, and the latest pandemic will not keep Máirín confined indoors, as she loves to enjoy the scenic surroundings at Maryfield.

“Everyday I am out for a walk. We have a lovely river and three flights of steps. Walking is very important. I have been walking all my life. It has been a big help to the body,” said the centenarian, who is bright as a button and looks nothing like her age.

Máirín was born in Belfast to parents Liam Sheehan and Annie Dineen, but moved to Dublin three months later as her father took up work in the city.

The UK authorities would not recognise Máirín or Ruaridh on birth certificates, so her official name on papers is Mary and her brother went by Rory.

Máirín spent time living in Killarney and Cork, where she did a degree in science and a diploma in education at University College Cork.

It is fair to say she was a bit of a trail blazer for women in the workplace between the 30s and 60s.

“It kind of fell into place unexpectantly,” she said.

“My background is chemistry and experimental physics. I was offered a three week placement at a lab in UCC and stayed for years.”

Following an article in The Echo for her birthday in 2017, UCC got in touch with Máirín to offer her a trophy as she is the oldest known graduate of the college.

In a tribute to Máirín on their website, UCC acknowledge Science and STEM subjects were not widely studied by women during her era.

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Máirín Hughes has received six commemorative coins and also an award from UCC on her birthday in 2017

Following graduation, she worked in the pathology lab in UCC’s Department of Medicine for 14 years.

At that time, hospitals did not have on-site pathologists so Máirín and her colleagues would run the blood tests for them.

After marrying Francis Hughes in 1950, the couple relocated to Palmerstown.

Francis, a Sligo man, passed away in 1971 and Máirín lived in Palmerstown until 1986 before moving into one of Maryfield’s independent apartments.

Speaking to The Echo on Friday, the interview had to be cut short after half an hour because everyone was waiting in the dining hall to wish her a happy birthday.

Máirín is engaging, humble and great fun. She enjoys a lovely bond with staff at the centre but one suspects her kind spirit has a positive impact on all around her.

“I have nothing but to be grateful to God – he opens doors.”

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Mairin's amazing Scrabble birthday cake

According to Áras an Uachtaráin, Máirín is approximately the tenth oldest person in Ireland, albeit the records are dependent on families and nursing homes updating the database from month to month.

She received a cheque from the President in 2013 on her 100th birthday and now has six commemorative coins but concedes a preference for the cheque.

An avid fan of classical music, walking, and literature, she looked forward to enjoying a wee sherry later on, courtesy of a bottle of Harveys from The Echo for her birthday.

“I’m no great musician but I always loved going to concerts and love Mozart,” she said.

“I have a couple of tapes in my room and will listen to them later with a nice sherry, which was my father’s favourite.”

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