When Michael O’Connor was born, John Redmond was trying to get Home Rule past the House of Lords, the Dublin Lockout was on the horizon and Dún Laoghaire was still called Kingstown. And the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic was not too far away. Brian O’Connell spoke to Michael, one of Ireland’s oldest people, for Today with Claire Byrne. Born in Glencar, Co Kerry to parents who were both teachers, Michael’s early life was blighted by tragedy:
“Everything was going nicely until, unfortunately, misfortune hit the family. And then we saw poor days.”
The Spanish Flu hit Michael’s family hard: he got it and his mother got it. Michael survived, but his mother did not. Brian asked him to describe what it was like having the disease.
“It was described as double pneumonia. Single pneumonia or you got double pneumonia, in which case one lung was infected, or in the other, both lungs were infected. I had both lungs infected. As a young fella, I could see them crying after me. I was dying.”
This was, to the best of Michael’s recollection, 1922. Now, almost 100 years later, he’s eager to get vaccinated against the 21st century’s own global pandemic. Listening to Michael talk is like taking a trip in a time machine. You want to hear about the First World War?
“A bare memory. A little memory and that was shortages. There were shortages of this, that and everything... Flour and everything else was in short supply. And on this occasion, Dad and Mam had gone into the town to get whatever it was and lo and behold, they were able to get a whole sack of flour. Eight stone of it. They were delighted. They came home and they hastily made a loaf of bread. And – I remember this distinctly – it was absolute poison... Whatever it was, it wasn’t flour.”
The Civil War and its aftermath?
“After the Civil War you had neighbours against neighbours, families against families. Bitterness prevailed.”
Michael, who retired from aviation in 1980, reckons he has been retired longer than he was working. And he has the sort of wisdom you’d expect of someone who’s been on this planet for such a considerable period of time. It’s fair to say that he’s seen it all, but even Michael has to raise an eyebrow when it comes to the troubles of the present day:
“There were always difficult times. There was never a time that wasn’t difficult for somebody, for groups of people. But we never experienced the worldwide difficulty that we’re experiencing today. Every country’s affected. Everybody in every country is affected.”
How does Michael manage to stay safe? Brian asked him.
“Stay indoors and keep my mouth shut.”
You can hear the full, wonderful conversation between Brian and Michael O’Connor, by going here.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
Share this Post