Ireland joins fun for 100th birthday

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06/10/2010 12:00 AM |

Among the many highlights of Mattituck resident Hannah Lovett’s 100th birthday celebration was a trip to New York and a meeting with the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

After Hannah Lovett of Mattituck turned 100 last month, friends and family from across the country and across the Atlantic gathered for a spirited celebration at Founders Landing in Southold.

She’s not the first North Forker to reach the century mark. But how many of her contemporaries can say they marked that milestone with a fat check from the government of Ireland and a meeting with Ireland’s president?

As an Emerald Island native born in Rathmore, County Kerry, on May 22, 1910, Hannah is entitled to her home country’s “centenarian bounty,” said Lorraine Christian, press officer for the consulate general of Ireland in New York. She’ll soon receive a check for 2,540 euros. At the current exchange rate, that converts to just over $3,000.

In addition to the money, Ms. Lovett attended a reception and luncheon on May 21 at the American Irish Historical Society on 5th Ave. in New York, at which she met Irish President Mary McAleese. The president was in New York on a four-day trip, largely to commemorate the victims of the Irish famine. The first female head of state to succeed a female as an elected head of state, she also gave the commencement address at Fordham University. Ms. McAleese was first elected in 1997 and followed Mary Robinson, the nation’s first woman president.

Most centenarian bounty recipients simply get a check in the mail, but Ms. Lovett was one of three women invited to New York for the luncheon with the president.

“We get a few each year, but this was very special,” said the consulate’s Ms. Christian. “Although they may have lived outside of Ireland for 80-plus years, it’s great that they can be recognized this way.”

The 100th birthday payment has been in effect for quite some time, but was only recently extended to members of the diaspora, a term used to describe Irish emigrants and their descendants. Hannah became a member of that group when she came to United States at age 17 and settled in the Bronx, where siblings had already moved, and worked as a nanny. She emigrated with her older sister Nora, who had earlier moved to America but subsequently returned to Ireland. They both went to America for the same reason so many others did: to find employment and send money back to their family.

Hannah was extremely homesick and, in 1952, she and her siblings came back to Ireland, but only stayed a few months before returning.

Here in the U.S., Hannah (nà e Riordan), the third youngest of 11 children, married Michael Lovett, an engineer, originally from Kenmare, County Kerry, in 1939. They had seven children, then 12 grandchildren and, at last count, 24 great-grandchildren. The family lived in Brooklyn before moving to the North Fork in the early 1970s. Mr. Lovett died in 1996.

Mary Regan of Southold, one of their daughters, said their home was always open to anyone in need of help. “Some stayed days, some stayed years,” she said. “She’s helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people in her lifetime. She’s a quiet woman, very unassuming, and generous to a fault.”

The gathering in Hannah’s honor in Southold on May 23 was anything but quiet. The attendees included 25 nieces and nephews from Ireland and other relatives from Vancouver, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Illinois. With a number of fiddlers and accordion players in attendance, the merrymakers did not lack for traditional Irish music.

“It was a great, great party,” Ms. Regan said.

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