Peter Cassidy of Middletown, Drumaney, Ardboe, died on 19 August 1957, aged 99 years and 3 months. He had been baptised in Ardboe parish on 25 May 1858, the youngest of four children of John Cassidy and Mary McGee, both natives of Drumaney.
The Cassidy home passed from John Cassidy to Peter, and in turn to Peter’s daughter Annalisa Corr née Cassidy, and thence to her son John Corr, who resides in the ancestral home today.
Peter Cassidy was a butcher by trade. He travelled extensively though the countryside, killing and dressing pigs and skinning cattle.
He always walked everywhere. It is still recalled that whenever he needed a drench – a bottle of medicine for animals – he would set out on foot to visit a veterinary practice in Portadown, County Armagh, 25 miles distant. He left home late at night, walked the 25 miles to Portadown, made his purchases and arrived home around 10 o’clock the following morning, ready for his day’s work.
Peter would have known the paths to the Orchard County from his youthful days, for he won the heart of an Armagh girl, Sarah McCann of Derrylettiff, a townland just north-west of Portadown. They were married in Drumcree, Portadown, on 15 November 1898 by the parish priest, Fr Laurence Byrne. The bridesmaid was Sarah Jane McKeown and the best man was John Boylan of Drumaney.
The couple settled down in Drumaney and had three children – John (1900), Annalisa (1901) and Mary Jane (1903). Tragedy, never far distant from families in those days, struck at the very heart of the Cassidy family. Sarah died following the birth of her third child, Mary Jane, on 10 March 1903. She was thirty-two years old. In fulfilment of a promise, Peter buried his wife in her native county, in the ancient churchyard in Drumcree.
Peter continued to work at his trade, travelling the country as before. His older, unmarried, sister Rose took charge of the household and helped to rear the three orphaned children. When they grew up, John and Mary Jane emigrated to America. Annalisa married Tommy John Corr, a tradesman from Lurgyroe, Ardboe, and they in turn raised their family in the Cassidy home-place, with grandfather Peter an integral part of the family.
John Corr recalls his grandfather vividly and fondly, ‘Peter Cassidy was mainly self-educated. Reading was one of his great pleasures. Throughout his life he spent long hours reading by the light of a turf fire. He was always willing to explain to visitors what life was like in the 19th century. His recall of events was excellent, whether it was a description of the kiln for making bricks which was operated by the Forbes family in Drumaney, or the feats of the local boys who played hurling – known as commons or camán – in the 1860s. He recalled as a boy seeing the Mooneys and others playing camán on the road from Duff’s Corner to the Battery Harbour and back. He said that this took place on Sundays, and apparently the reason for playing on the roads was that the landlords prohibited the game being played through the fields. The sticks – camáin – were ash plants with a curved end, and the ball – bulla – was wooden, and made from holly.’
Peter Cassidy suffered the loss of his eyesight in his final years but he still retained a keen interest in everything around him, right up to his death, in his 100th year, on 19 August 1957. He was laid to rest in the family in the graveyard beside the Old Cross of Ardboe, overlooking Lough Neagh. From the vantage of the graveyard, a visitor looking southwards over the waters of the lough to the Armagh shore can see the gentle slopes of Selshion, under which lies the body of Sarah Cassidy, Peter’s young bride, who was removed too soon from her husband and young family.
Saturday 8 June 1957
99 YEARS – MORE OR LESS
Ninety-nine or one hundred? Mr Peter Cassidy, of Lower Drumaney, Coagh, who was christened on 25 May 1858, is not quite sure whether he is 99 or 100 for his parents often told him that, owing to the scarcity of priests in the middle of the nineteenth century, his baptism was delayed for some months. As far as the baptism lines are concerned he is 99 and holds the distinction of being the oldest person in Ardboe and the surrounding parishes.
To mark his embarkation on his hundredth year, this grand old gentleman was the guest of honour at a party in his home on Sunday. Present was his daughter, Mrs Annalisa Corr, and four grandchildren, Bridie, Sarah, John, and Tommy Corr, together with a number of other relatives and friends.
One of a family of four – two boys and two girls – Mr Cassidy’s brother Pat and his sisters, Sally and Roseanne, all lived to a ripe old age, none of them dying under 80 years old. His late father, Mr John Cassidy, was 95 when he died and until the end possessed his own teeth and could read the paper without the aid of spectacles.
During his long life Mr Cassidy has really seen Ireland take her place among the progressive nations of the world. As a child he learned the three Rs in a hedge school, making the journey in his bare feet with a potato in his pocket for lunch and a couple of turf under his arm for the school fire.
In later years Mr Cassidy travelled around the countryside killing pigs for farmers, for which he received the remuneration of 3 pence per animal. He never rode a bicycle or visited the cinema but he can remember the first letter-carrier in the district. In those days the main Coagh-Battery road was really only a track bedded with heather and sticks. And a lady named Kearns, who had the distinction of being the first “postie” in the area, carried the letters, in her bare feet for 6 pence a day.
On another occasion Mr Cassidy and his friend, the late Mr John Forbes, had to come to the assistance of this lady’s successor when flooding at nearby Middletown Bridge nearly forced him to abandon his work. The two young men, however, carried him shoulder high through the rising water and the people were able to have their mail that day.
Mr Cassidy was born in the house in which he now resides with his daughter, who was one of three children. A son and daughter have made their homes in America – John in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and Mary (Mrs Hugh O’Neill) at 697 Wannamaker Road, Jenkinstown, in the same state. He has thirteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. One of the former is Sister Mary Judith, a Franciscan nun, whose sister, Loretta O’Neill, will be joining the same Order in September.
A candle-lit decorated cake and greetings cards with an inscribed 99 marked the occasion for this grand old gentleman whose goal now (if God so wills it) is the century mark. That is if he hasn’t already attained his hundredth.
Observer readers join with the Editor and staff in wishing him many happy returns.