Betty McElholm, pictured at home this week - Picture: Brendan Gleeson
SHE was born into a world where the Great War had led to millions of deaths and where the Spanish Flu was about to claim the lives of millions more.
And, this Wednesday, Kilmallock’s Betty McElholm marked her 103rd birthday in near isolation due to another world-altering catastrophe, Covid-19.
“If I get the virus, sin a bhfuil!” said Betty this Wednesday afternoon from one of the three armchairs positioned in front of an open fire in her back room.
While she’s been watching “a nice bit” of the coverage of the coronavirus outbreak Betty says “I don’t bother my head with it.”
She hasn’t a pain nor an ache and was just after a bowl of rice when the Leader arrived, observing all social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
When asked if she wanted to put on a bit of make-up for the photo, she laughed: “I’ve never worn make-up in my life and I’m not going to start now!”
Betty, who was born on March 18, 1917, was going to spend her afternoon doing some reading. “I get books up from the library every Friday and Saturday. I’ve got through all the books so I’m going to go through Ireland’s Own now.”
The local priest was after dropping her a bouquet of flowers to mark her big day and she got a special mention at local Mass on Wednesday morning.
Her home help lights the fire for her five days a week leaving Betty to her own devices on Saturday and Sunday. Each evening she negotiates some 17 steps of a staircase which leads to her bedroom. “It’s a wide stairs, no problem,” she smiles.
For Betty, it seems to be all in the genes.
Her mother (Mary O’Leary) lived to be 95.
One of her sisters, Bobby, lived to be 97.
And Betty never drank!
She smoked a little bit in school and ate everything including quite a lot of sweets, mostly chocolate.
Betty’s mother Mary ran the shop at the front of the premises. She hailed from the parish of Effin.
Her father William Carroll was from Ardpatrick. They were married in 1904.
Betty was just three years of age when the family home and shop was burned to the ground by the Black and Tans in July 1920.
She remembers JFK’s assassination in 1963.
“I was here at home and it came on the news.”
Did she get a shock?
“I don’t think I ever get a shock at anything.”
And now she has the days when Ireland went on near lock-down due to a virus known as corona to add to her memories.