Katherine Plunket: A Well Documented Super-Centenarian in 1930
[ Text | References | Annex A | Annex B ]
One often sees photographs in the newspapers of some old man or woman who has reached the remarkable age of one hundred or even one hundred and two, and one sometimes hears that in a certain village there is an old inhabitant who is said to be one hundred and five or more, but no one really knows exactly how old these people are. I have, however, a cousin who really is one hundred and ten years old, for the authentic record of her baptism, dated December 13th 1820, together with that of the marriage of her parents, is written down in black and white in the Registration Book of the little Church of Kilsaran, in Ireland.
The Hon. Katherine Plunket was born at Milestown, Co. Louth, when her father was curate in charge of Kilsaran parish. Later he was made Dean of Down, and finally Bishop of Tuam, so Miss Plunket's early days were spent first in the North and then in the West of Ireland.
Railways, of course, were unheard of in those days, and the journey from Tuam to Dublin which now takes a few hours, was in those days a vast and complicated undertaking, for if the weather was bad Dublin was not reached in less than two or three days by the stage coach. Miss Plunket can remember that once or twice she went by canal most of the way, and when the slower, though safer, route was taken, the journey ran into five or six days.
My cousin has lived through no fewer than five reigns, and is one of the most loyal residents in Ireland. She takes the keenest interest in the Royal Family, and was as excited as anyone about the recent birth of the little Princess Margaret. She has lately been the proud receiver of a telegram of congratulations from their Majesties the King and Queen on her one hundredth and tenth birthday, on November 22nd.
For the last forty years she has lived at Ballymascanlan House, Co. Louth, which she inherited from her uncle, Mr. Frederick Foster. When we were children we used to look forward with great excitement to going and staying there. Her younger sister, Gertrude, used then to keep house for her, and we always had a wonderful time, as my cousin was fond of children and always made them feel thoroughly at home with her at once. When we left, we used to be given five shillings each, and we were always told to spend it wisely! She treated Miss Gertrude as if she were a young lady and she herself her mother, whereas she was only twenty years older. When Miss Gertrude travelled to Dublin my cousin refused to allow her to go without her maid, as she said that Dublin was far too big a place for her sister to go about in alone. Miss Gertrude was then seventy-five!
When Miss Plunket was one hundred and two she was forced to her bed by a bad attack of bronchitis, and when she had finally shaken it off her doctor advised her to remain in her room. She resigned herself to this calmly, and left the management of her garden and estate entirely in the hands of her sister. When Miss Gertrude was in her eighty-fourth year she succumbed to a heart attack and left poor Miss Katherine alone.
This catastrophe, we felt sure, would shake my cousin so much that she would soon follow her sister. We found, however, that we were much mistaken, for shortly after her sister's death she announced that she would have to " pull herself together" in order to take on the duties her sister had been forced to forsake. This she not only said but did, and she has been stronger and in better health during the last few years than she has for many years past.
Until quite a short time ago she used to sign all her cheques, and even now she likes to know exactly how her money is being spent; her pass book is generally on her table beside her bed, and she herself arranges the details of her financial transactions. She thinks that her bank is just as it was when she was last in it, and that the manager stands behind the counter dealing out or taking in money from his various clients, and that he certainly reads and attends to all the letters personally, for she has often told me that she considers Mr. Coutts a most capable and reliable man! She very much resented a message from a relative who, a short time ago, offered her his well-meant advice on an investment, and stated that she was well able to manage her own affairs.
In 1825, when Sir Walter Scott paid a visit to Ireland, he stayed for a short time with the first Lord Plunket, who was then Lord Chancellor of Ireland, at Old Connaught House, Bray. Miss Plunket, who was aged five, was also paying a visit to her grandfather, and can remember being brought down from the nursery and sitting on Scott's knee. This is one of her first recollections.
Miss Plunket was very keen on travelling in her younger days, and has visited nearly every capital in Europe. She was also very fond of sketching, and the walls of many of the rooms at Ballymascanlan are adorned with her sketches of Italy and Switzerland.
Last summer Miss Plunket was in better health than usual, and for some weeks she sat up in a chair each day for a few hours. She never has allowed things to worry her, and has always believed that anything good comes from God, and anything bad has been sent for her good. Her appetite is just the same as any normal person's. She is extremely fond of game, and for many years past she has eaten roast turkey and plum pudding, and drunk champagne on her birthday. She has always been an excellent sleeper, and on days when she is not feeling well, instead of worrying, she enjoys a good day's sleep.
When I go to see her, it seems impossible that she should be such a great age; she is so clear in her mind and so interested in doings of the great world outside. She always enjoys a joke, and has a very strong sense of humour. She likes to know what we young people are doing, and loves hearing about our dances and parties, and thinks all young people should enjoy themselves. She readily accepts the fact that modern young men and women enjoy far more liberties than they did in the days of her youth.
The papers are read to her regularly, and she has always been a keen reader and admirer of the "Spectator". It gave her special pleasure last year when she received a letter of congratulations on her one hundred and ninth birthday from the Editor.
[ Home | Contents | Return to previous page ]