A question of age

by Nuala Starkey

My mother, Una O’Connor, was born in 1919 in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Ireland. Her mother was Margaret Mary Byrne, who already had 5 children, but only one son. Her father was David Francis O’Connor, Tax collector and later to become Alderman, Editor of the Nationalist and Shopkeeper (inherited).

Una married Petie McQuillan from Maheralave, Derriaghy, Lisburn in Clonmel in 1948 and duly travelled to live in the far away black North. Her name was now translated to Agnes, since an Irish name like Una was considered too Irish to be safe in Belfast, where she would now live. Mammy always joked that she would never grow old. She only had a Birthday every 4 years, since her Birthday was the 29th February. It was stated on her Birth Certificate.

However officialdom eventually caught up. On applying for his British Passport for their very first foreign holiday, to Lourdes, I might mention, Peter was confronted. 1919 was not a Leap Year. How could his foreign wife have been born on 29th February? (Families travelled on one passport up until 1988).
Toing and froing across the border ensued. Eventually hospital records declared  March as the month of birth. In his drunken celebration, or drowning of his sorrows, Grandfather O’Connor had taken one from the month and added one to the day. The 28th March 1919 was the birth date. Mammy aged overnight due to the sharp eye and mathematical skill of an unknown official. She never forgave him.

Nuala Starkey