Sunday, June 16, 2024


CASTLEWELLAN woman Mary McClean celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday. Mary was born on Monday the 30th of April 1923 and was the second youngest of seven children of Francie and Catherine Keenan, Dolly’s Brae Road, Magheramayo. The family members were Paddy, Kathleen, Peter, Sarah-Rose, Frank, Mary and Philomena. Mary attended Magheramayo primary school, half a mile from the family home. In those days, parents were required to pay a fee to cover books and heating etc. The mistress was Mrs McKeown who was very understanding and kind to children.

Mary had a good relationship with Mrs McKeown who taught her for the first four years. Mary then moved into Master McKeown’s class (husband of Mrs McKeown) for the remaining years of primary education. Master McKeown was the school principal. Like a lot of teenagers at that time, Mary left school at 14 years of age and worked on the family farm, along with parents and siblings, as well as her uncle James McGrady, who had several small farms. Some of the farms had hay, corn, barley, and potato crops, along with cattle, pigs and hens. Mary worked hard, like all the family, but she never lifted a wage packet in the hungry 1930/40s. She would be lucky if she came home with a bag of potatoes. There were no picket lines in those times. The Keenan family horse was called ‘Jessie’ and her uncle James’ horse was called ‘Nellie’.

Mary travelled with her father in the horse and cart to Barney Doran’s shop on the Altnadua Road, near the horseshoe bend, to buy animal feed. Otherwise, she cycled the bicycle to bring home groceries. In 1939, when Mary was 16, her mother died at the young age of 52. In the early 1940s, the parish priest of Gargory, Fr Dr O’Hare, started a weekly fundraising dance on a Friday night. John McAlerney, Dolly’s Brae, gave the use of his barn, which was across the road from the Keenan family home. There was a small fireplace in the barn and Mary and her sister Kathleen (Rooney) worked hard to gather sticks to heat the barn, especially in the cold weather. They also took responsibility for putting paraffin oil in the tilly lamps as well as keeping the place tidy.

Approximately 100 people from surrounding townlands attended weekly, mainly travelling by bicycle, but often there was a few cars to be seen as well. All the bicycles were parked at the Keenan family home, which was the headquarters for the band room dancing and warm up area for the two resident accordion players, Peter McGrady and Hugh McGreevy. They were both Magheramayo men, who arrived on bicycles carrying their accordions over their shoulders. Peter and Hugh enjoyed a cup of tea before leaving the Keenan family home to go across the road to the barn to play for two hours, from 9-11pm. They always started with “If you are Irish, come into the parlour” and they played quick steps, fox trots and waltzes. The men queued up on one side of the band room and the women queued up on the other side. Also, in the 1940s there was the ‘Dolly’s Brae Sacred Heart’ flute band which Mary’s three brothers, Paddy, Peter and Frank, all played in.

They played in Warrenpoint on the 15th of August, Newcastle Feis an Duin, Gargory parish sports days (in a field on the Leitrim Road), Magheramayo and the Castlewellan main street etc. All the Keenan family would follow the band, which was led by the great band leader Joe Fegan from the horseshoe. The first tractor arrived at the Keenan family home in the late 1940s and it was a wee grey Ford Ferguson. This was a big step forward in the farming business as it was able to work at a faster pace than a horse (which needs a rest now and again). It was thought that ‘Jessie’ would be going into a well-deserved retirement after several years of hard graft. When there was no money to fuel the tractor, ‘Jessie’ had to come out of retirement, which was nearly every other week. Mary’s aunt Theresa was married to Mickey O’Hare and lived in Ballymagreehan. When Mickey died in 1946, Mary moved up to her aunt Theresa’s house. She met Mick McClean, from Kilcoo, at the band room and they married in Gargory Church in 1949. They had seven children: Seamus, Maureen, Noel, Sean, Bridie, Michael and Brendan. In 1955, Mary and Mick (and four children at that time), along with Theresa moved to a bigger house at Magheramayo crossroads in 1955. It was the start of a ten-year stay. The house had no electricity or bathroom, but six years later there was a water tap put into the porch which saved going to the well.

In 1965, all ten (including Aunt Theresa) moved into Seaview, Castlewellan (formerly known as the Priests houses) for better facilities. When the family left Magheramayo, some of the neighbours were crying. In Seaview, there was a flush toilet, water taps, electricity in the house and light from the street pole. Her aunt Theresa died in May 1973 and her husband Mick died in September 1987. Mary has 19 grandchildren; Siobhan, Michelle, Mark, Michael, Patricia, Martin, Tina, Theresa, Denise, Paul, Stephen, Michael (R.I.P), Kieran, Catherine, Stephen, Andrea, Chris, Sean and Sarah. She also has 29 greatgrandchildren.

Mary listens to the Hugo Duncan show every day on the radio and enjoys songs such as ‘I met her at the Galtymore’, ‘Going out the same way you came in’, ‘Four roads to Glenamaddy’, ‘Flash the lights at me’, ‘Horse it into you Cynthia’, ‘Hello Patsy Fagan’ and many more. Every time she hears Mick Foster and Brendan Shine playing the accordions, it reminds her of Peter McGrady and Hugh McGreevy. She gets up every morning at 8.30am and makes plans for the day. Her son Sean goes to the local supermarket to bring home groceries daily. Mary would have done the shopping each day herself up until the Covid-19 pandemic. The staff in the supermarket would continue to ask her if she purchased any fuel and she always replied that she still had no driving licence. Mary is a very religious woman and tunes into mass online each day. Mary has always lived life to the full, surrounded by her family and frie

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