I recently spotted, in an old newspaper, the death notice of a very old lady in Cullybackey. Martha Hanna was a stunning 126 years old when she died in March 1808.
1808 Cullybackey – 126 Year Old Martha Hanna Dies
Saunders’s News-Letter – 19th March 1808
But, holy smoke, it turns out that she wasn’t alone. A neighbour in nearby Ahoghill, Martha Dunn, was also 126, when she passed away 8 years earlier, in 1800.
A little more digging threw up a fascinating old article from the Northern Whig newspaper, from June 1833. The author listed the centenarians in County Antrim, from as far back as 1685, up until the date of his newspaper’s publication in 1833.
Note, in this old list, the author refers to Martha Hanna as being from Ahoghill (not Cullybackey). I suspect with Ahoghill being bigger, and a more recognised regional centre, it got the nod. For all we know, Martha Dunn might well be from the Cullybackey area too.
OK, I have transcribed the original 1833 list and put together an additional list of the ten oldest people in County Antrim (all were 115 years old or over), plus some notes on a few of the people referenced in the list. It’s worth adding, with not having their birth dates, it’s impossible to conclude whether Martha Dunn or Martha Hanna was oldest. I have ranked them alphabetically, based on surname.
Table 1: Ten Oldest County Antrim People Between 1685 & 1833
Here’s the full list, with the year in which the person died, along with their parish or district, as transcribed from the 1833 newspaper article in the Northern Whig.
Table 2: Old People, County Antrim, of 92 years of age & upwards
Here’s a few more interesting details about some of the above people.
1731, Jane Hooks, from Belfast, was 113 when she passed on. At 112 years of age, she got a new set of teeth,
17—, William Orr, from Ballymoney, who died at 101, also got a new set of teeth, a few years before he died.
1758, Alexander Wiley, of Dunachy, was 106 when he left this mortal plane. He was a police constable in Ballymena when the army of James II. passed through the town, on it’s way to the siege of Derry.
1778, James Watt, of Duncan, was 97 when he passed on. James got married at 94.
1790, Francis Joy, of Drumaul, was 93 when he died. He was the original proprietor of the Belfast News-Letter, and established, at Randalstown, the first paper-mill in Ulster.
1791, I omitted them from the above list, but Robert and Elizabeth Andrews, from near Doagh, died with a combined age of 200.
1793, Peter Mason, was 93 by the end. He had served as a soldier, during the taking of Carlisle, in 1745.
1802, Nancy Laughlin, Dunagore, was 102 when she died. She had got a new set of teeth cut, at 98 years of age. She saw her great-great-grand-child, who by the time of her death, was two and a half years old.
1806, William O’Toy, Ballymoney, was 93 when he passed. William was a coroner for County Antrim area, for sixty-one years.
1808, Martha Hanna, Ahoghill, 126, was a very small woman, and carried food to the masons who built Cullybackey Meeting House, in 1727. She remembers, as a child, shots fired in the Battle of the Boyne. Ahoghill in those pre-famine years was clearly a wonderful place for centenarians. Two other Ahoghill centenarians that died in the early part of the nineteenth century were Arthur O’Hara, who was 103, and John Whitley who was 102.
1809, N. Alexander, of Dunagore, died in her chair at 112. She claimed that she never had as much as a headache during her lifetime.
1809, E. Guthrie, Carnmoney, was 109 on passing. She was able read without spectacles until within a few days of her death.
1825, David Douglass, Dunagore, 96. On the 23rd December, 1770, David was rescued by the Hearts of Steel, while locked up as a prisoner in Belfast.
1824, Catherine Magee, Dunean, 108. Even at 100 years of age, she could sing and dance.
Next to the Ahoghill ladies (Martha Hanna and Martha Dunn) mentioned above, who both died at 126, the oldest County Antrim centenarians who died in the pre-famine part of the nineteenth century were A. McCambridge, of Layd, and Jane Johnston, of Belfast, who had both topped 123; W. Simpson, of Kirkinriola, who just missed out on reaching her 120th birthday when she passed away in 1804, and Prudence Hare, of Drumaul, who had reached the age of 119.
As well as Ahoghill and Cullybackey area being famous for it’s folks living long lives, Tickmacreevan is another County Antrim village well known back then for it’s patriarchial residents. David McGavrock passed away there in 1786, at the aged of 110. Neal McNeill was 108 when he died in the village in 1806, and his brother H. McNeill followed him three years later, at the grand old age of 103.
The village of Killead also rears folks well. It buried five centenarians in the first twenty-five years of the 1800s, namely: James Cunningham, 108; John McClelland, 102; M. Horner, 103; J. Montgomery, 105; and Eleanor Tate, 111.
By the way, the original 1833 article refers to Dunagore (unsure if the original author misspelt it, or if that was the spelling of that era). I kept it this way in the transcribed table above. But the modern/proper spelling of the place is – Donegore.
Sources of information
Saunders’s News-Letter, 19th Mar 1808
The Examiner, 27th March 1808
The Scots Magazine, 1st Apr 1808
Northern Whig, 3rd June 1833.
Ballymena Observer – 11th February, 1910; 28th March 1919; 25th January 1924