Ballymakenny’s remarkable 106-year-old Sr. Anthony
Friday March 17 2000
WHEN Ballymakenny, Drogheda woman Margaret Mary Dolan decided to enter a convent many years ago a doctor had written a note pointing out that she was a delicate person whose health was not very good.
That was 80 years ago and Sr. Anthony Dolan, as she has been named for many years, is now 106 and has managed to live in three different centuries!
She was a mature woman of 26 years of age when she entered the enclosed order of Our Lady of Charity in Gloucester Street in inner Dublin in 1920. The first 26 years of her life in Ireland was lived entirely under British rule before she entered the convent. Her first real experience of life in the new Irish State came more than 40 years later when, following the changes brought about by Vatican Two in the 1960s, she re-emerged onto the street outside outside which, by then, had been renamed Sean McDermott Street.
Sr. Anthony was born Margaret Mary Dolan on the day before Christmas Eve 1893 at the family home at Ballymakenny, the third of nine children of Elizabeth and Patrick Dolan. Her father was a carpenter. Like most other families of the time, her family was poor. But she enjoyed step dancing classes on Sundays, which were all the rage at the turn of the century, she said.
Her whole education was at Kellystown National School where a Miss Muckian would deal with unruly boys by ‘lashing them around the legs’. Her father died young and she stayed at home to help her mother with the children.
Eventually, she moved to relatives in Dublin. She remembers the great sadness caused in the country by the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and then the Easter Rising when people were confined to their homes in Dublin.
‘It was an awful time 1916. We could go to the window but I couldn’t go to the door. It was risky on the street. You could be shot for nothing. The poverty was worse duing the rebellion, it made things worse for the people,’ she said.
Four years later, when she joined the convent, supplies of food were scarce again when people wqere once again being shot down on the streets, this time by the Black and Tans, she said.
She had no regrets when she entered the convent. There were no boyfriends to say goodbye to, she said, adding, ‘I couldn’t stand them, begging your pardon!’
After two years helping supervise 150 women working in the convent’s ‘Magdalen’ laundry, she became a cook for the convent’s 40 nuns. She continued cooking in the convent kitchen until well into her 80s.
Last Summer Sr. Anthony paid a final visit to her old homestead in Ballymakenny before it was sold off.
Among those at her 106th birthday party in Dublin were her nieces May Gorman, St. Patrick’s Terrace, Beamore Road, and Lily Flanagan, Nursery Cross, Collon. Mrs. Gorman said, ‘Her memory is just great. I think she was trying to write a book about her early days.’
‘Her last remaining brother Frankie ‘Laddie’ – died in October 1998 and that was a very sad time for her. She came home on holidays to Ballymakenny every year for the last 30 years but then the farm was being sold. She came to Ballymakenny with five or six other nuns to take a last look, and they all visited the shrine of Saint Oliver Plunkett in St. Peter’s.’
‘When you think about it, she really is a remarkable woman. She lived through two world wars, the 1916 Rising, and the Black and Tans era.’ Mrs. Gorman said.
March 30 2002
IRELAND’S oldest nun, who was born and raised in Drogheda, has died at the age of 108 having lived through three centuries.
Sister Anthony Dolan, who was born in Harestown, Ballymakenny, died on March 26 last at Beech Lawn’s Nursing Home in Drumcondra.
This week, Sr Anthony’s grand niece, Noeleen Reilly who shares the same birthday as the centenarian, described her as a ‘very gentle, holy and quietly spoken’ woman.
Sr Anthony has two nieces still living in the Drogheda area, Noeleen’s mother Mary Gorman, and Lily Flanagan from Collon.
Sister Anthony was born Margaret Mary Dolan on December 23, 1893 at her family home in Harestown, Ballymakenny.
She was the third of nine children of Patrick Dolan, a carpenter by trade, and Elizabeth Dolan, a hardworking housewife. The family, like most at the time, were quite poor and after her father died while she was still young the gentle Margaret remained at home to help her mother with the younger children. Sr Anthony received her education at Kellystown National School.
Having moved to Dublin to live with relatives, Margaret Dolan joined the closed order of Our Lady of Charity in Gloucester Street, Dublin at the age of 26 in 1920 where she chose the name Anthony after her favourite saint.
Sister Anthony worked as a cook for the convent’s 40 nuns and continued to work in the kitchen well into her 80’s.
Having lived through an amazing three centuries and two millenia, Sister Anthony witnessed at first hand events which the rest of us can only read about in the history books, including the sinking of the Titanic, the 1916 Rising, the Civil War, the first and second world war and the Berlin Wall coming down.
In 1999, Sister Anthony moved out of the two-and-a-half-acre convent and in to Beech Lawns Nursing Home after the order handed over the land to Dublin Corporation in return for sheltered housing for the remaining nuns in the convent.
Always spritely and lively, Noeleen says Sr Anthony was up and out of bed until four days before her death. ‘She was always a very healthy person, she was never ill, had never been in hospital, never had any sicknesses or problems, nothing,’ Noeleen says. However, this was not what the prognosis when Sr Anthony first joined the order of Our Lady of Charity. Noeleen remembers: ‘When she joined the order, the doctors told them she had a weak heart and was very delicate! Obviously that was proved wrong.’
She says Sr Anthony never suffered any illness throughout her long life, relished life and loved her food, eating normally until a couple of days before her death.
‘It really was quite an amazing life, when we went up to visit her she would know who we were and would ask how the family was so she was very alert right up to the end.’
Note : Occupation of father confirmed as carpenter on marriage Register.