there was great sadness among family and friends around Laois this week at the passing of Ireland’s oldest living person, Anastatia Kealy.
Anastatia, who lived for nearly a century at Ballinaphrase, Rathdowney spent her last 18 years in Abbeylands, Castledermot but remained always very well connected to her home in Laois. Anastatia lived right on the border of Laois and Kilkenny and, although she was a Laois woman, she also had many ties to the parish of Galmoy.
Anastatia was born in Ballinaphrase in 1903, and was the ninth of 13 children to parents Lizzie (nee Lambert) and Thomas Kealy. Infant mortality was high in those times, and the Kealys lost six children in a row, several to tuberculosis. When Anastatia was 90, she was invited by her sister to stay in Castledermot and, when her sister passed away, Anastatia took up residence there, living alone save for visits from home help and from her grand-nephew Fr Ian O’Neill, who travelled to spend time with her every week.
Fr O’Neill told the Leinster Express that she “always kept in contact with Ballinaphrase and got all the news. She was very well connected there. She would have returned home to her cottage every year. Her heart was there, and that is where she wanted to be laid out. So when she passed she spent a night in Castledermot and a night at home in Ballinphrase. She was laid out in the same room as when she was born in 1903, so it came full circle for her,” he said.
Anastatia’s life was well chronicled during her time, and her many stories have been documented, both in Turtle Banbury’s ‘Vanishing Ireland’ and by the UCD Department of History who travelled down to interview her. “Her mind was perfect right until the day she died” said Fr O’ Neill, “and she was a very deep woman of faith. She prayed a lot and one of her favourite prayers was ‘Padre Pio, Padre Pio, Padre Pio’. She died on the feast day of Padre Pio (on September 23) which was very unusual.”
Although Anastatia lived a tough life, Fr O’Neill said that she was always in good spirits. “She was interested in everyone and knew everyone’s names. She had a remarkable memory”.
That memory served a great purpose as Anastatia was able to tell many stories of her childhood, including the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
“She remembered coming home, aged nine, and reading about the sinking of the Titanic in the newspaper,” he said.
Although she never married, she always had a great affection for men Fr O’ Neill told the Leinster Express. “When she spoke about some women on the ship who didn’t want to leave their men to go on the lifeboats, she said weren’t they right.”
Anastatia also remembered the Easter Rising very well, and was very frightened of the Black and Tans.
She was a character according to those who knew her, and even joked about her brush with the law.
“Her friend, who was a nun, was home for a visit and she brought her visiting to Johnstown on the pony and trap. They left it very late coming home and decided to travel the back roads to avoid a very grumpy guard who was in the town. But on the back roads they were caught by the guard who was waiting at a gate. He did her for having no light on the pony and trap” laughed Fr O’Neill.
Anastatia was very interested in people and always had lots of people around her, and these people came in droves to pay their respects at the weekend, both in Castledermot, and in Ballinphrase. Her funeral mass took place yesterday in Galmoy. Anastatia is deeply regretted by her family and friends.