Mayo woman going on 105 in Tennessee

Bridget Elizabeth Hamilton is proud of her Irish roots.

This is the story of “Bridget” Elizabeth Hamilton who was born in Mayo over 104 years ago back in 1897. She lived for many years in Philadelphia and now resides in Tennessee. Her daughters Mary Hamilton-Hire says her mother is very proud of her Mayo and Irish roots and the family will be especially delighted to see her story featured in a Mayo based newspaper.

She was born in the Foxford-Pontoon area of Mayo and was daughter of Thomas and Bridget Mulrooney. She was one of a family of five girls and one boy. “Our cousin Mary who is married to Thomas Conlon resides in the home area where mom was born. Mary was mom’s brother Richard Mulrooney’s daughter. Some family relations will surely make the connection when they read the story,” says Mary.

Elizabeth celebrated her 104th birthday last May (7th) in Tennessee. It was a long way from the rural Mayo into which she was born at the end of the 19th century. This is the story of the “Wild Irish Rose” as contributed by her daughter, Mary Hire. Enjoy it.

“Elizabeth Teresa “Bridget” Mulrooney Hamilton, now of NHC nursing home here in Tennessee was born on a May day in County Mayo, Ireland, 1897. She was one of six girls and one boy born to Bridget and Thomas Mulrooney.

Her parents survived the Black Plague when Elizabeth was a very young child. She remembers them talking of the terrible disease that found its way to Ireland and killed so many there.

The children contracted it first and her Mom was overtaken with it after taking care of the children. Her Dad was the last to get it. The doctor told them not to drink cold water, but one day Elizabeth thought her father had gone to town and she slipped down to the well and drank all the water she could. When she returned her sisters threatened to tell on her but actually she got well quicker than all the rest and through God’s grace the whole family survived.

The schools in Ireland were open year round and the teachers were strict. Therefore Elizabeth was a great speller and she remembered poems that she can still recite. She enjoyed competing with the children and helped them all became interested in their schoolwork.

At the time of the sinking of the Titanic there was a poem written and to this day Elizabeth remembers all the lines. She still has a great memory for all the old Irish songs and poems.

Like many of her friends before her Elizabeth’s sister came to America, where they had been told “the streets were paved with gold”. When Elizabeth was 17 she came to join her sister and to work for the John T Dorrance family, of Campbell Soup Company fame. When the ship arrived in Philadelphia after a two week journey at sea, there was no one there to meet her. The reasons became clear very soon. The letter announcing her arrival time came on the same ship she did! Her sister did not receive it until the day after she arrived.

She soon settled into the American customs and with the help of her sister she learned the countryside. They worked hard but had fun times. When they would get a chance they would go to Irish dances on weekends or write letters back home. They sent money home to help out the family as it was very hard for farmers in those years.

Another reason many young Irish women came to America was because in those years parents made matches for their daughters and the groom gave a dowry. Such a match was made for one of Elizabeth’s older sisters, who in turn had to work hard in the fields and had several children.
Elizabeth realised the same was in store for her and so she said “There will be no matching for me.” She still has the independent spirit today.

After working in the USA and saving all she could, Elizabeth went home and made what would become her last visit home to her native land of Ireland.

After returning to the States she worked for the Hugh L Adams family. He was vice-president of Budd Machine Company. During this period she met her future husband, Robert Hamilton. His parents had come over from Ireland on their honeymoon on the maiden voyage of the Haverford (the same ship Elizabeth made her last voyage on).

In 1925 Elizabeth and Robert were married and started their family, having four sons and three daughters. One daughter died at birth. In 1941 the family moved to Atlantic city and enjoyed the ocean, boardwalk and beach.

Then the war years began and one by one all four sons (Robert, James, Richard and John), went into the services, each one choosing a different branch; the Marine Corp, Air Force, Army and Navy were all represented. When the boys would get together there was some fun and rivalry about which branch was the best.

Elizabeth attributes her faith in God for bringing her through the war years. Her oldest son, Robert, was in Okinawa at age 17 as a young marine; then in Korea and Vietnam, becoming a career serviceman for his country. He has many ribbons and awards.

Two sons were career servicemen. Another was president of an insurance company in California. Still another son headed a louvered window and door company with outlets in many States.
After the children started leaving home Elizabeth and Robert and youngest girl Nancy left Philadelphia. They moved to Tennesse where their daughter Mary had moved after marrying a serviceman.

From Tennessee they went to Long Beach, California and managed apartments until her husbands death in 1974. Elizabeth brought her husband back to Tennessee to be interred at Spring Hill Mausoleum and stayed here to be close to her girls.

The one very exciting time in Elizabeth’s later years came in 1980. She has always loved Irish music and was still able to do the Irish jigs. Her daughter, Mary, entered her for Senior Queen in the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The contestants had to be originally from Ireland.

She still had her Irish brogue and could dance with the best of them. She was so thrilled when they placed her sash on her and put her and her 8 year old grandchild in a horse-drawn cart, with the cart’s owner and his wife riding up front.

The parade route was wet from an early rain and the horse was skittish. About three blocks from the end of the parade route the horse ran out of line resulting in the cart and all jumping the curb and leaping into a gas station before the horse fell down.

By God’s protection no one was hurt and the head of the march came and asked if Elizabeth felt like marching the rest of the way. Her family was watching with great apprehension as she jauntily marched along. Her daughter said, “Mon, this may be too much for you. You could have a heart attack.” She just looked at her and said, “Well, you can tell them I died happy!”

Another surprise for Elizabeth was a reunion held at Christian Manor in 1987 for a combination of Mother’s Day and birthday celebration. All her children from many states (California, Washington state, Arizona, etc.) got to come in and have several days to see this area and be reunited. Some had not seen each other for 25 years.

In addition to her children, 11 grandchildren were able to make the trip. Elizabeth has 16 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. It was a joy to all the family to watch her as she danced with each of her sons and see her so thrilled and happy.

Osteoporosis sent Elizabeth to NHC nursing home in 1995 but after two years she was released and took an apartment in Cumberland Greene where she lived till age 100 in “independent living”. One month after a huge 1997 reunion party for Elizabeth’s 100th birthday her hip gave way and she came back to be a patient at NHC where everyone treats her like family!

Elizabeth has enjoyed her stay at NHC participating in events and joining a group of ladies called “The Sweethearts”. They do “praise signing” at several gatherings and a near by church. They are always endearing with the help of our recreation directors Amy Goodwin and Pat Shroyer.

Elizabeth shows that at 104 plus years there can still be a lot of life to enjoy! She attributes her years with love for God and family, and her Irish heritage of enjoying life. Her independent loving nature is keeping her friends and family amazed at her stamina. “Independent” - that’s Elizabeth our Irish Queen. Hope you enjoyed hearing from a lady from the County Mayo.”

- courtesy of the Western People