Gerardine Cusack was always smiling and singing when she was raising her three children through the 1950s and 1960s. Having reached the age of 104, that still hasn’t changed.
Sitting in a wheelchair in her room at Ashford House nursing home in Dún Laoghaire on Wednesday afternoon, Ms Cusack, who is known as Gerry, was surrounded by balloons and banners, as her friends and family celebrated her big birthday.
“Happy birthday to you,” they sang to her, as she posed for the cameras, fixing her hair, stretching out her arms, and smiling wide. As staff at the care home brought a cake out to her, she joined in on the happy birthday chorus to herself.
Her son David smiled at her, adding that she has always been “full of life”, cheeky and optimistic about the world. “She was amazing. She was always singing. She could sing pretty well and she would sing pretty much all the time when she was cooking or even doing housework. That’s what I remember mainly about growing up,” he said. “It was just amazing as kids around her in the house. She is just a fantastic mum.”
Having lived for more than a century, Ms Cusack has witnessed first-hand some of the biggest moments in history.
Born in Westport in 1919, she went to boarding school in England when she was 11. She lived through the second World War in London, which left a big impression on her, and she constantly told her children about the experience.
Her son Michael said she often spoke about the blitz, in particular. “Living through that, in some ways, even though it was horrible, because there was a war happening, people got very close. So she had a lot of really close friends from that era.”
David added: “She vividly remembers things that happened because it was so vivid. There was a chance of getting bombed on an almost nightly basis for a while.”
Her career has also been long and varied, particularly after she moved backed to Ireland. She worked as a tour guide and as a secretary for the rock band Horslips. For a period, she had a full-time job in London, and would return home to Ireland to raise her children.
Her daughter Linda said she was always a very creative and feisty person; the sort of person who was “very good at everything”.
“She took up writing quite late in life and published two books. She took up painting quite late, because she was raising a family, and then sold many of those paintings,” she said.
Now, while some of those hobbies have fallen to the wayside, she still engages her creative nature through colouring. “She colours. She tells me she wins all the competitions and sometimes they don’t let her because they’re jealous. So she tells me, anyway,” Linda added, smiling.
The Covid-19 period was very hard emotionally, according to her daughter, as she visits every day. “She lived with me up to two years ago. The pandemic was horrendous. We could visit but it was restricted. She’s very much a people’s person so she couldn’t really get used to it, but they’re very good [in the nursing home]. Her cognitive function has decreased. Nowadays, she’s still smiling, but she would be a bit more confused.”
As her family stood around Ms Cusack drinking tea, coffee, prosecco, and eating birthday cake, her children said they were “in awe” of her ability to keep going, keep living, and to keep smiling.
“I’m in Mayo so I visit about once a month and I’m always amazed at how well she looks for her age. She almost always has a smile on her face,” David said.
“It’s so impressive,” Linda added laughing, “Though I’m not sure I’d like to follow suit and live to 104.”