Burns family celebrates as Felix enjoys landmark 100th birthday

Burns family celebrates as Felix enjoys landmark 100th birthday

8 May 2019

HE’S from an era of hard-work and living off the land and last week Rossglass man Felix Burns celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by loyal family and friends last week.

With 13 children — one son, Oliver, sadly predeceased him — 48 grandchildren and 41 great-grandchildren with one more on the way, Felix and his late wife Isobel, have left a significant legacy.

More than 250 members of his extended family, along with neighbours and friends, turned out at his Ballylig Road home on Sunday afternoon to celebrate in style for the man who is revered as the leader of a dynasty.

Despite being a little hard of hearing in his advanced years, he enjoyed all of the festivities as a new centenarian with the spotlight well and truly on him.

He was delighted to receive the traditional congratulatory card from the Queen, and a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Co Down, David Lindsay, wishing him well. 

Still ever the canny farmer, Felix was even more pleased to receive a letter along with a cheque for €2,000 from the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins.

A special mass for the immediate family was held on his May 1 birthday and was conducted by Fr Peter O’Kane, of St Joseph’s Church, Killough.

On talking about his long life, Felix says he has seen a lot of changes throughout his time, particularly within farming.

“There are a lot more fancy machines and traffic on the road now where we had to do a lot of the work by hand and by hard work, and walk to where we needed to go,” said Felix.

“I had the best local neighbours and we never had a bad word. I had great help from the Laird family in the earlier days until my own family got up and were fit to help.”

Felix’s antidote to hard work was finding time to relax and enjoy himself.

“I loved watching horse racing, football and snooker on the TV and often attended Downpatrick races in the earlier days,” he said.

The secret to his long life? “I was blessed with the company of a loving family, friends and neighbours and I love to see the younger generations coming to visit,” he said.

Felix says he always advised his family and friends to be content with what they had and not to take life too seriously.

“I dealt with things as they happened, that’s how I dealt with life,” he continued. “I feel very lucky to have reached this age as a lot of my friends and family have passed before me. I always leave a wee of tea in the bottom of my cup so maybe this has helped me live so long!”

Felix was born in Ballykinlar just weeks before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the First World War, on June 28, 1919. 

He was the fourth child of Felix and Ellen Burns and learnt the value of hard work from his parents. His father was a butcher, while his mother ran a small sweet shop and cafe and used to bake bread for the soldiers, particularly the GIs who were stationed at Ballykinlar army barracks during the Second World War.

Felix was in his early twenties during the war. His youngest daughter, Anne, says the bombing of Belfast is something that stuck with him all his life.

“The Blitz in Belfast is something that Daddy always talks about. He says he can remember that he and a friend climbed up to a top of a nearby hill to watch the bomber planes. The noise and drone of the bombers flying over was something that still stays in his mind.”

The family had moved to Rossglass when he was 14 and daughter Eileen recalls how his father courted her mother, Isobel (née Torney), when she was just 20.

“Daddy tells us how he had to cycle into Downpatrick to go to the pictures with Mummy so it was a very different time to now,” she said.

The couple married in 1948 and went on to have nine sons and four daughters — the late Oliver, Peter, Sean, Kate, Paddy, Eileen, Dominic, Eamonn, Kevin, Malachy, Martin, Mary and Anne.

He worked the 120-acre farm at Ballylig Road until his later years but his children say that he still enjoys giving his son, Peter, who now runs the farm, his expert advice to keep him right.

Felix grew potatoes for many years and most of the people from the village picked for him at some time or other, including Killough’s own Canon Sean Rogan, former parish priest of Downpatrick, who visited him on his birthday. 

Eileen says that while their father was strict with them, he was always very kind and fun-loving.

“Daddy is cheerful, happy but believes in hard work. He’s very resilient and now he really enjoys seeing a good day on the farm and being brought out to the porch where he can hear the birds. He has always loved farming and is very passionate about nature,” she said.

Mrs Burns died of cancer in 1999 and Felix has had more than several close calls with his health since then.

Eileen said: “He’s had four heart attacks, hip replacements and skin cancer, but he has been blessed with good health and we put that down to his hard work and plain eating. He wouldn’t have any kind of takeaway about him.”

For the last 10 years, he has received daily care from two healthcare assistants, Cindy and Amera, who the family say are devoted to their father and they are forever grateful for what they do for him.

While two of his children live away from home — Eileen in London and Eamon in Kilkenny, Felix kept his travels to Britain and Ireland.

“Daddy came over to see me in London when he was 80 and was on the Tube for the first time in his life. He couldn’t believe how diverse London was and the buzz about it. He loved it,” added Eileen.

Felix is known for his friendliness and was never one to pass a neighbour on a lane or the road without stopping for a chat.

He and his two childhood friends of more than 60 years, Henry Starkey and Tam Montgomery, were stalwarts at the Minerstown Tavern every Saturday night — so much so that there is a framed painting of the three of them hanging today in the bar. 

Felix and his family had asked friends to give donations in lieu of gifts to Cancer Fund for Children’s Daisy Lodge Centre in Newcastle.