Woman who loves Donaghadee marks 100th birthday

Woman who loves Donaghadee marks 100th birthday

By Gabrielle Swan

CREAM BUNS, Cabin’s ice-cream and the occasional bag of dulse is the secret to a healthy and long life according to a Donaghadee woman who turned 100 this month.

Popular local woman, Cecilia Gannon, was surrounded by countless family and friends at Scrabo Golf Club on July 6, marking her early 100th birthday celebration.

Cecilia will also be spending her actual birthday on July 13 at the Culloden Estate and Spa for a special lunch.

The centenarian is the mother of three daughters, Fidelma Gannon, Siobhan Jeffers and Aine Scott. She is a grandmother to five and great-grandmother to six.

Born on July 13, 1924 to Edward and Cecilia Walsh, the local woman was named after her mother. She was the eldest daughter in a family of seven children, with brothers Edward, John, Charlie and Paddy, and two younger sisters, Mary and Eveleen.

Ahead of her birthday, and excited to receive a card from King Charles and Queen Camilla, Cecila shared stories from her upbringing in Donaghadee.

“My father was in the army all his life and I was born in the Victoria Barracks in Belfast,” she said.

“I love Donaghadee, I remember going swimming in the Commons, around the back of the quarry. I used to walk out to Ballyvester when my father and mother used to take us out to the beach there for picnics.

“I had a dog called Rover when I was a child. My father came home one day, he put his hand in his pocket and took out this wee dog but my mother turned around and she says ‘wherever you got that, take it back’.

But the dog stayed, recalls Cecilia.

Living during a tumultuous time in the twentieth century, Cecilia spoke of the German bombers flying overhead to Belfast, and the aftermath of the Princess Victoria disaster. The sinking of this vessel during a storm took the lives of 133 people in 1953.

“During the Second World War, I remembered the planes coming over, you could hear the drone of them. They used to drop the bombs in Belfast,” said Cecilia. “It was a sad time, all your curtains were drawn, there were black outs everywhere.

“There were air-raid shelters in Donaghadee, but they’re all away now, they were knocked down.”

Cecilia said the sinking of the ferry was ‘a terrible disaster’.

“You saw people carrying bodies into the Imperial Hotel and I was standing outside. it was terrible to see all of the people being carried in, such a day.

“I don’t know why I was standing there, because it was pouring rain and blowing a gale, but I was that nosey I had to see what was going on.”

Cecilia first started work at Cousins Spirits and Grocers at 14 years old. After the unfortunate death of the owner after six months, she then went to work at the Home Bakery in Donaghadee where she stayed for 18 years.

Marrying her husband, Gerard Gannon in August 1958 at St Comgall’s Church, they then settled in Donaghadee.

They had three children, Fidelma, Siobhan and Aine. After her husband fell ill, Cecilia started working with her brother-in-law at the Yachtsman’s Bar, which was in the same location where she started her working career at 14.

She stayed there for 26 years, still never taking a sip of alcohol due to her pioneer status.

After the sad death of her husband in 1975, Cecilia undertook a full-time job as a care assistant in Northfield House nursing home.

“When I went for the interview for that job, they asked me why I was applying for this kind of job and if I had done it before,” said Cecilia.

“I says to him ‘I saw the ad in the Spectator and I thought the money was good’. They laughed and said ‘at least you are honest’.”

As for the secret to a long life, the local woman swears by ice-cream, starting off each day with an orange as well as the occasional bag of dulse.

Her daughter, Aine, also believes it is her jovial nature which has ensured her longevity.

“It’s her positive attitude which has gotten her to this age. She is never depressed, she’s always happy” said Aine.

“Mum is always laughing and joking. She loves people and parties, we have a party every year for her,” she added.