Mid­lands marvel – 100 not out

Pub­lished: June 13th, 2000. Pho­to­graph: Pat Lan­gan

The Irish Times Magazine - - THE TIMES WE LIVED IN - Ar­minta Wallace

It may look or­di­nary at first glance. But when this pho­to­graph was taken in the year 2000, its sub­ject had a pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary tale to tell. Pa­trick Greene, from Bal­li­nalee, Co Long­ford, had just cel­e­brated his 100th birth­day; and, as is the case with many cen­te­nar­i­ans, his life rep­re­sented a direct line into his­tory.

In 1918, hav­ing trained as a teacher, he got a job sub­bing in Horse­leap – where he had a chance en­counter with Michael Collins’s brother Johnny, who ad­vised him that as Ir­ish was go­ing to be the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the new state, he’d do well to learn it.

“Where would I learn Ir­ish?” Greene wanted to know. Collins put him in touch with a farmer in west Cork, and in 1922 he ar­rived in Ballingeary and spent six months work­ing on the farm as Gaeilge.

When the Civil War broke out, Greene de­cided to head for home, but that proved to be eas­ier said than done. The bridge at Mal­low had been blown up: no trains were run­ning to or from Cork. He man­aged to hitch a lift in a lorry, got a boat to Dublin, and fi­nally made his way back to Long­ford.

There he spent his life teach­ing, rais­ing eight chil­dren with his wife and mak­ing a name for him­self as a re­spected folk­lorist. Three years af­ter this pic­ture was taken, he got an hon­orary de­gree from NUI Gal­way for his con­tri­bu­tion to Ir­ish ed­u­ca­tion. He died in 2007, a few months short of his 107th birth­day.

On the day they met him our re­porter and pho­tog­ra­pher, how­ever, were more im­pressed by his im­mac­u­late gar­den and the fact that he was still mer­rily driv­ing his own car.

Per­haps it’s fan­ci­ful to see some­thing of the fairy tale about Pa­trick Greene’s house and gar­den – the enor­mous conifer hedge, the bun­ga­low cov­ered with Vir­ginia creeper, the open door and win­dows, the flow­ers, the shrubs in bloom. It would be OTT to de­scribe him as a real- life su­per­hero. But he was un­doubt­edly a Mid­lands marvel.

Archive pho­to­graphs and other Ir­ish Times im­ages can be pur­chased from irish­times. com/ pho­to­s­ales

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