November 26 2019
Rathcoffey’s most famous resident, Bernie Campbell, celebrated his one hundredth and fourth birthday today, Thursday, November 26. The happy event comes four years after the Swinford, Mayo native received a letter from President Higgins, to mark his 100th occasion. He now has four medals from the President. His son, Anthony, told us the latest one arrived last Friday. The family were all gathered around last weekend to mark the occasion. He was in remarkably good form today at home as visitors called in to congratulate him.
On reaching 104, he said: “It is a surprise to me. It is something I never contemplated,” said Bernie, who continues to have a remarkably good memory and told us he had a brief spell in hospital in recent times. Of course, he misses his wife, Eileen, who died in 2014. “The world turned upside down. She was so understanding and considerate,” he said of her passing. Of his family, which includes two great grandchildren added since he turned 100, he says: “They are as good as gold.”
Asked about his continued health, he said: “I was a type of healthy character.” But he adds another interesting twist. “The answer is I’ll be as polite and considerate as I can. I was given a generous understanding of people and it is a big help. You don’t go flying off the handle.” Bernie’s great sense of humour has not hindered him either. Neighbours think highly of Bernie and the Campbells.
Long time friends, Michael and Maura Keegan, arrived to say hello. The Keegans moved to Rathcoffey in 1975 and knew Bernie and his family before that. Maura goes back further. “My people were neighbours of Bernie’s in Curryane (near Swinford, Co Mayo),” she said. Michael added: “He’s been a great neighbour. Among the arrivals were Anthony’s cousin, Pat, and Eddie Travers. “Congratulations. There you go again,” Eddie told Bernie. Bernie told him: “I thought I was finished getting medals but one turned up,” he said of last Friday’s arrival.
In 2015, Rathcoffey parish marked the special birthday, including a guard of honour during the morning mass attended by Bernie. Over 200 people attended a special party at Rathcoffey GAA club. In 2015, also, Bernie was honoured with the Papal Benemerenti medal for his work with the Roman Catholic church and the community in the area. Bernie farmed in the Rathcoffey area for years after buying a farm there in 1959. His parents had arrived and started farming at Graiguepottle in 1943 and he spent some time working in Britain in the 1930’s. He was a founder member of the Maynooth branch of the Irish Farmers Association.
He met his wife, Eileen, a nurse, in Kilcock. They were married 61 years. Bernie has five children, Anthony, Bernie, Colman, Jim and Eileen. He was born on November 26 1915 in Swinford, Co. Mayo, to a family of eleven. He was eighth in line and is the lone survivor of his siblings for over twenty years. The Mayo farm was small and his parents moved to Kildare in 1940 under a Land Commission deal.
Bernie worked in building and construction in England in the early 1930’s. Speaking to us in 2015, he said that in November 1959 he bought his own farm in Rathcoffey. “A lot of people thought I was mad. I paid €6,500 for 85 acres. It came with a corner house which got a facelift.” When Thomas Farrington wanted to sell a grocery shop in Rathcoffey, Bernie and Eileen were offered the chance to run it. They took it on and Eileen was in charge for a number of years. Four years ago, he told us of his education: “When you are talking about education, when do you stop. I got it from the university of life.” Nine years ago when his school in Mayo celebrated its 100th birthday, Bernie was the oldest of the pupils who were able to attend.