On 3 October 1907, my grandmother was born in Ireland. She didn't have an easy childhood - when she was 11 her mother died, and as the eldest of five children, Granny had to look after her younger siblings.
After their marriage, my grandparents came over to England and settled in Lancashire, where they brought up their seven children. They had high and low points, and through them all Granny prayed for her family. She was particularly devoted to Our Lady, and when there was an illness or other crisis in the family she would often 'bribe' Heaven with the promise of a daily rosary for the rest of her life if her prayers were answered. By the time she was in her 90s, most of her spare time was taken up with praying the rosary.
When I was growing up, every time there was an exam, an illness, a new baby, or anything else going on in the family, the person concerned would receive a card from the nuns of the Cen.acle Cru.sade of Prayer, saying that Granny had enrolled them in the Crusade and the nuns would be praying for success in their exam, a speedy recovery, the health of the new mother and baby, or whatever. With seven children, 22 grandchildren and increasing numbers of great-grandchildren, Granny kept the nuns busy.
Granny was tiny - a key stage for each of us in growing up was when we overtook Granny in height, and it usually happened around the age of 10. But she was strong, firm and loving. She only ever smacked three of her grandchildren - and as my mother never ceases to remind me, I was one of the three (clearly a case of mistaken identity, I believe).
Having nursed my grandfather through Alzheimer's, Granny survived him by almost 20 years. We all thought she would live for ever - she would always say, "I'll just hang on until the next baby's born", and there was always another baby on the way somewhere in the family. My mother prepared a family tree for my grandparents for their Golden Wedding anniversary - a picture of a tree with my grandparents at the roots and all their descendants branching off the trunk. Every so often, she would update it, and there were always several new members of the family to add to the tree.
By the time she died at the age of 97, Granny was survived by six of her seven children (all still married to their original spouses), 22 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Since then, several more have been added to the family, and her latest great-great-grandson was born two weeks ago in Australia.
Her descendants have lived in Australia, the US, South Africa, China, France, Germany, Holland, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Romania, Chile, Oman, Belize, Ireland and the UK. Most are practising Catholics, and all have inherited from her an appreciation of the importance of family and a love for their own extended family.
This weekend, 30 or 40 of her descendants will be getting together for a party to celebrate Granny's 100th birthday. One of my cousins can't make it to the party, but he'll be visiting her grave and putting birthday flowers on it from all of us. Granny loved a good party and was devoted to her family, and I know she'll be there in spirit and loving every minute of it.