Muddy Puddles have had the wonderful honour of gaining an exclusive interview with Ireland’s oldest living woman, Kathleen Hayes Rollins Snavely. Not only is Kathleen Ireland’s oldest woman, she is Ireland’s oldest ever living person!
While still completely and utterly sharp as a tack, Kathleen is known to be extremely private. Kathleen to this day has remained a modest and humble woman, and with this she holds a firm disliking in sensationalising her age and is opposed to talking to the press on the subject matter. Luckily for Muddy Puddles & our readers, her Great Niece works in Muddy Puddles HQ, and Kathleen has in turn shared some of her story of her childhood with us!Where did you grow up?
On a small farm in Feakle, Co. Clare, Ireland.
What did your Mother and Father work as?
Mother and Father worked as farmers and publicans. They were also both terrific musicians and played themselves and my Uncle played in the Tulla Ceile Band.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I always wanted to do well for myself, and I have always been very independant. Rural Ireland was lovely, but did not have a lot to offer job wise.
What was your favourite Childhood game?
We always played hopscotch. At home we played in the fields. We were outside all the time.
Where did you get your clothes from?
My clothes were all made by my mother. We never had bought any new clothes. Later we received clothes from America.
What hobbies did you have as a child?
At night we always had music and singing. We all loved that. As I have mentioned my family were very musical and we went to town Ceile every weekend.
Another favourite pastimes was visiting the neighbours and washing their dishes for them, there no hot water in those days.
Nowadays kids have different type of clothes for every different type of weather, was the very different to what it was like in the early 1900s?
We had very little material possessions. Every one else was the same. Childhood was really enjoyable.
Born in Feakle, Co. Clare, Ireland in 1902 to a farmer and publican. Kathleen had a terrific childhood, but she always had an independant drive and dreams of making a life for herself.
Thus at the tender age of 19, is Kathleen immigrated to Syracuse in 1921 in hopes of a better work life in America. At the time Ireland was very scarce in terms of work oppurtunites, especially for women. The War of Irish Independence was still resonating with the people of Ireland, but in polar opposition America was seeing the dawn of the Roaring 20s and Warren G. Harding had been just been voted into office as president of the United States in the first national election to include the vote of women. So, on September 22, 1921, she set sail to the US on a ship called the Scythia from Cobh, Co. Cork, and has never looked back.
After eight days at sea, Kathleen arrived at Ellis Island on September 30, 1921. According to the arrivals record, she had $25.00 to her name (half the “recommended” amount). She was bound for Syracuse to stay with her uncle, Jeremiah Moroney.
She quickly gained employment in E.W. Edwards Department Store, earning $5.00 for six-day work weeks, before moving up the retail ladder. She then met and married her first husband, Roxie E. Rollins.
Just as the world economy was regaining its strength after the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Roxie and Kathleen founded Seneca Dairy, opening their first store on South Salina Street. With both of them working seven days a week, Seneca Dairy made it through the Great Depression with over 40 employees, two local retail stores and an ice cream fountain. As Kathleen recalled in 2000, “Neither of us had a formal business education…We learned on the job, through experience. If you have a feeling for management and enjoy it, experience will give you the skills.”
Roxie and Kathleen never had children. He died in 1968, at the age of 66. Two years later, at 68, Kathleen married her second husband, Jesse Clark Snavely, Jr., on February 28, 1970 in Rohrerstown, Pennsylvania. A widower, he had three sons, Jesse, Jere and James.
With her step-children are now in their 80s, Kathleen has remained in Syracuse all her life. In honour of that Last St Patrick’s Day was declared Kathleen Hayes Rollins Snavely Day by the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County. On that occasion Kathleen recalled the advice she gave to her younger brothers on the day she left Ireland for America almost 100 years ago, and to this day remains one of the most profound pieces of advice we have ever hear: “Work hard, and you be careful about drinking, and grow up to be someone to be proud of.”
She lived a wonderful life of remarkable hard work and success. We were interested in going even further back, before her life in America, to when she was a country girl of rural Ireland. The difference in material possessions and what we take for granted is truly amazing, along with the games and past times we still know and love that have stood the test of time. Remaining an independent and humble women even at 113 years old, we hope you enjoyed the interview as much as we did.
For more information on Kathleen see Irish Central.