100 YEARS OLD: John Coffey from Lewis Road will celebrate his 100 birthday this weekend. Photo: Michelle Crean
“There are so many changes I’ve seen – it’d take you a month to write it all down.”
By Michelle Crean
It’s not many who can say they’ve reached the 100-year milestone – but for Killarney’s John Coffey who still drives independently around town – this weekend will be very special.
Tomorrow (Saturday), John from Lewis Road – who will be classed as a Centenarian – will be joined by family from all over Ireland, Australia and America for an enormous party in Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.
Then on Monday – the official day he turns 100 – neighbours and friends have organised a Mass for him at the Croke’s Clubhouse where Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Michael Gleeson, will present the President’s cheque to him.
John is the last of 12 children born to Jeremiah and Nora Coffey (nee O’Connell) in Carnahone, Beaufort on August 26, 1919.
He took over the role as a Cottage Rent Collector from his father from 1939 to 1948, cycling from Beaufort back to west Kerry on a daily basis – which he now attributes to his good health and long life.
He then took a job in Killarney Town Council as a Community Welfare Officer and built the family home on Lewis Road with his wife Kitty O’Shea from Brandon, who he met on his travels. They had five children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
John, who is blessed with a pin sharp memory and good health said that he has witnessed many changes over the years – not all of them positive.
He has memories of the Civil War in 1923, remembers the old battered roads, the introduction of electricity, met Pope John Paul II, and has witnessed the changes modern life has brought.
He also puts his good health down to family genes as his father died aged 99 and his mother aged 97, as well as the active lifestyle he had as young man cycling to west Kerry and building the family home block by block with local man Batty O’Connor.
He has also been through some harder days with the loss of Kitty in 1996, his son Denis who died suddenly eight years ago and son John Joe who died aged 13.
And he has requested no presents this year for his birthday but has instead asked if anyone wants to give something, they can make a donation to Down Syndrome Kerry.
“What do I want presents for!” he told the Killarney Advertiser.
He said that there are so many changes he’s seen – it’d take you a month to write it all down.
“The changes are unreal. People have more comfort now than years ago. God almighty, it was real hardship back then. There was no electricity and no tar on the roads. The sense of community is gone completely now. There was no knocking on the door, you’d just walk right in.”
And when it comes to modern technology, although he has a mobile phone – he doesn’t use it. He knows about smartphones and tablets but says he got by all these years without using them and warned that soon children “won’t be able to add two and two together”.
“In one sense technology is good,” he said.
“It can go to the extremes too – but there has to be moderation with everything. You must go with the times – you can’t stop progress.”
And some traditions he keeps, like baking a Madeira cake everyday – something his loving wife Kitty did everyday of their marriage.