US resident is Ireland’s oldest woman
Friday, 16th May 2003
Catherine Furey was born in Clonarragh, Kilbride, close to Roscommon Town and emigrated to the United States in 1913. A member of the family of John and Catherine Hickey, Catherine celebrated her 110th birthday last month, making her the oldest surviving Irishwoman. She has only returned to Ireland on three occasions since she emigrated, the last in 1985 when she was ninety-two years of age. Married to a Galway-born milkman, she was widowed at a young age and found work as a cafeteria manager at a school in New Jersey, where she worked until she was seventy-six. For the past nine years she has lived in a nursing home in New York.
Ireland’s Oldest Woman Dies.
THE woman believed to be Ireland’s oldest living citizen has died at the age of 110.
Catherine Furey, who was born Catherine Hickey on a small farm in Co. Roscommon in April 1893, died of old age on November 30 at a nursing home on Long Island.
Furey, who first came to America in 1913 aged 20, is survived by her daughter Joan, 74, and son Paul, 70, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
She had lived an active life, at the tender age of 101 attending a costume party dressed as a Spanish senorita. Living alone in her own apartment in a senior citizen complex in Uniondale until she was 101, after she suffered a mild stroke she moved into the St. James Plaza nursing facility on Long Island 10 years ago.
There were few parties she missed, and she only took to resting more when doctors detected a malignant tumor on her right cheek in March this year. “I haven’t missed many parties,” she told the Irish Voice during an interview in May.
In October 1913, Furey boarded a ship named the Arabic (a boat later sunk by the Germans in World War II) and sailed to Boston with her sister Beatrice. Eight of the 10 children in the Hickey household eventually immigrated to the United States. She traveled third class.
Her passage cost $20 and took seven days. Traveling with her sister, Catherine arrived in Boston (her sister Beatrice later died from tuberculosis).
They traveled to an aunt and uncle who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. There, Catherine took a job as a cook and housekeeper for a Protestant minister, earning $4 a week.
For Furey a life in Ireland was never on the cards. She had seen huge buildings go up in New York, and a new invention in shop windows on Madison Avenue, the television. Ireland and Roscommon seemed like another planet, but she had always kept in contact.
During her time in Providence, Furey sent money from her wages back to her family in Ireland whenever she could. In the early 1920s, she returned to Ireland for a pressing family matter.
At the time there was a quota entry system into America, and she was not allowed a swift return. She was forced to stay in Ireland until she could travel again.
Sailing alone to New York in 1922, Furey came through Ellis Island. She traveled to New York City where the Interborough Rapid Transit subway, which opened in 1904, brought her to a job as a nanny and housekeeper for the Meimann family on Central Park West.
On one summer break with the family in 1927, she opened the beach cottage door to a Galway-born milkman named Simon Furey. It was love at first sight. That same year they married and moved to Hempstead, Long Island.
She gave up working and began a family with her husband safe in the knowledge that she had at 34 lived a life she could be proud of. Then the Great Depression hit the same year Joan was born. Fortunately the people of Long Island still needed milk, so the Furey family survived.
During World War II her husband died of a heart attack, leaving Furey a widow with her two children. Forced to take on work, she returned to housekeeping, and by the 1950s, signed on to run the cafeteria at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Garden City. She stayed 11 years. After that, she worked taking care of children, a job she kept into her early 80s.
Visitation is Wednesday, December 3 at Branch Funeral home in Smithtown from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Funeral Mass will be at St. Patrick’s Church in Smithtown at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday with burial in Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.
U.S. Social Security Death Index for Catherine Furey
First Name: Catherine
Last Name: Furey
Birth Date: 6 April 1893
Social Security Number: 094-34-4391
Place of Issuance: New York
Last Residence: Suffolk, New York
Zip Code of Last Residence: 11780
Death Date: 30 November 2003
Estimated Age at Death: 110