When the town clock in Carrick on Suir chimes out the hours these days it’s new ‘owner’ is sitting close by and listening.
They say in Carrick that by tradition the town clock belongs to the town’s oldest resident. Last week Sr Vincent Power celebrated her 100th birthday and in so doing became the oldest lady in the town, however she will only be a resident for a short while as she marks her landmark birthday with a trip back to Carrick form her home in France, where she is a member of the religious community of the Sisters of Marie Joseph and of Mercy.
The secret to a long and healthy life for Sr Vincent must surely be her love of life and positive outlook. She also credits her great faith and hard work for keeping her young at heart. Her life’s philosophy can be summed up in the words of her favourite song: “You have been good sweet maid, doing noble deeds not dreaming all day long.”
The milestone birthday was marked in Sr Vincent’s convent, at Le Dorat near Limoges in France, by a group of nieces, nephews and their children, who travelled from as far away as Australia and Canada, as well as Carrick on Suir, for the occasion.
Sunday, May 30, Sr Vincent’s birthday, was a day of great celebration at the Mother House of her order, where she has now retired to. The day began with a celebration Mass at which Sr Vincent reaffirmed her religious vows, after 81 years of being a nun. On the special day, five other nuns marked significant anniversaries of their profession and the congregation was joined by relatives from countries including the Netherlands and Spain.
Among those who travelled to France for the celebration were a group of Sr Vincent’s nieces and nephews, their husbands and wives, and a group of her grand-nieces and grand-nephews: Nicholas and Siobhan Power; Seamus and Liz Power; Patrick and Sheila Power; Ella Power; Alice Hunt; Helen and Seamus Barry, Eamonn and Monica Moloughney, Ann and Bob Bondi and their daughter Tierney who travelled from Canada, as did Jo Carroll; Mary Ann and Gerry Gannon who travelled from Australia; and the ‘third generation’ - Sian, Tara (Bath, UK)and Eamonn Moloughney and Emma Barry (Strasbourg).
Speaking at the Mass her nephew Nicholas Power said: “As we grew up Sr. St. Vincent showed us strength of character, she taught us to believe and be strong, to hold on the important things in life – love, faith, generosity. Her life has touched us all.”
On a day of feasting and singing, many memories were recalled. A singsong included a song Sr Vincent would sing with her own father - ‘Be good sweet maid,’ a rendition of ‘The Carrick Smashers’ by her nephews Nicholas, Patrick and Eamonn, and of course Slievenamon.
A memoir of Sr Vincent, written by her niece Kitty Moloughney, was read out and recalled how she had brought home fresh peaches to Carrick after the war, a rare sight indeed at the time. Kitty also recalled how Sr Vincent once explained then when working in prisons she would never enter a cell without first knocking and asking the permission of the prisoner - “Even in such austere and severe conditions as a prison you found a way to respect the people you worked with and did what you could so that they would not be robbed of their human dignity.”
Kitty also recalled how the whole family’s culinary skills were enriched by Sr Vincent. “We were definitely the only family in Carrick who had a French dressing on our salads almost as soon as we could eat solid foods. We always had a bottle of olive oil in the house - which in our childhood was unique in Ireland.” To this day it is still a task reserved for Sr Vincent when she is at home - the preparation of the salad.
A wonderful surprise for Sr Vincent was the delivery of a letter of birthday congratulations from President Mary McAleese. Sr Vincent stood and read the letter to the gathering herself.
When Sr. Vincent was born in Carrick on Suir, in 1911, Ireland was part of the British Empire. She was a child during the Rising of 1916, the war of independence and the civil war. She was only a young girl of eleven years when Ireland became a free state. She saw the shooting and burning of buildings that war brings, and at her birthday celebration told the story of watching the flames leap from the Carrick on Suir hospital when it was burned during that time.
Sr Vincent left Carrick on Suir when she was just 16 years old - in 1927. Arriving at the order’s house in France with another young novitiate from Carrick on Suir she spoke little French, and recalled how it was just a few weeks to Christmas and one of the older nuns took her out to see the decorated shop windows in Paris. Sr Vincent also recalled how at that time she had heard stories that the French ate horse and at many meals her young friend would give her a kick under the table and whisper ‘horse’ when their dinner arrived!
But it wasn’t an easy life for Sr Vincent. In those days she rarely had an opportunity to travel home to Ireland - unlike today when she spends time in Carrick every summer. During the Second World War there was no letter from her for several years and everyone prayed she was alive, but thankfully she survived in the convent near Limoges, to visit Carrick again.
During those war years she recalls run-ins with Nazi soldiers in occupied Vichy France and the atrocity of their burning of a village and its residents, close to her convent.
During her working life St Vincent was an ‘educatrice’ in orphanages run by her order and in French prisons, in Paris, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Rennes, and many other towns . She has been decorated by the French Government for this work.
Sr. Vincent was a great letter writer who kept in touch with all the generations of the family over the years as they grew up and scattered across the world. She got to visit the families of her sisters Kitty, Mary and brother Eddie in the US and came regularly home to Carrick to visit her mother, brothers and sisters, Tom, Biddy, Nick, John, Vincent, their families and all her cousins. With the exception of Vincent, all her brothers and sisters are gone to their eternal reward.