Local curmudgeon Alfie Byrne was celebrating this week after becoming the oldest person in the town. Bachelor Alfie, 102, had been engaged in a long drawn out struggle with top dog Aggie Darver for much of the last decade for the title of South Louth’s oldest living human. It wasn’t the first long engagement involving the pair either… The Faa Side caught up with Alfie for a chin wag and to find out the secret to a long life.
Alfie’s story begins in the 1930s when he became fully pubic and interested in local seamstress Aggie. Love, and a future of churning out childers in a small industrial cottage beckoned. But the outbreak of The Emergency changed everything. Vowing to defend Drogheda and fiancée Aggie from Nazi designs, Alfie got a backer on a friend’s bike up to Belfast to sign up.
Taken prisoner on a beach in France, Alfie spent the war being tortured by the Gestapo and reading out Nazi propaganda on the radio from his suite in Hotel Adlon in downtown Berlin. He eventually returned to Ireland after the war only to find fiancée Aggie shacked up and plump with a Meath farmer’s seed. Mocked incessantly by the spade handed Nobber man for teaming up with the English, Alfie vowed to outlive all Meath born, and failing that, Aggie, who’d given him up for dead. And that’s what he’s been doing since.
“I seen off Hitler handy enough but Christ Aggie was one tough cookie.”
A devout Catholic, Alfie is a great fan of the early mass as he gets the death notices before they do be read out on the radio.
“It’s what gets me up in the morning. I don’t sleep much these days so I prepare bingo cards of all the old people I know before mass. I had to give up on outliving all Meath born. It was too much for one man, especially after they finally got a county hopsital in Navan and sure advances in medicine have all but wiped out epidemics there, even old reliables like TB.
“But you diversify don’t you? I’d all this energy going to waste, you know? So I decided I’d do me best again Meath don’t get me wrong now, I’d also outlive every fucker I didn’t like in the town, which was quite a number I can tell you. And sure once I told me friends what I was at they stopped calling round.”
Byrne puts his longevity down to a strict routine of brandy and schadenfreude. Well known on the wake circuit, Alfie was the go to guy when a bit of balance was needed during funeral eulogies.
“I’ve always maintained that chalking one more off me list made me live a day longer. In the early days I’d be hanging on the death notices on LMFM come tea time. I’d have a shot for every name I knew, two if I hated the bastard, which I more often than not I did, especially as I got older.
“I did waver at times, I’m only human. I suppose I still loved Aggie in my own way. By the time she was 40 she’d had 18 kids and been ploughed more times than any of the fields on her farm. That farmer might have practised crop rotation on his fields, but not on Aggie. I almost felt sorry for her until I remembered how she ruint me life and all.”
As his hearing deteriorated, the HSE got the community nurse to show Alfie how to keep abreast of local deaths on the internet.
“I got that cracking Polish home help to show me how to use thinternet so I can keep up to speed with things as they happen. I get a pain in me head from refreshing www.rip.ie but ‘tis better than the Twitter, which I find to be instant but unreliable. I prefer instagram as you have the visual confirmation but it takes that bit longer.”
It was during the dawn mass Tuesday last that Alfie finally claimed a victory of sorts and he wasted no time in shuffling over to the early house at Sarsfields to celebrate the achievement with a drop of brandy and a box of Major he’d been saving for the occasion.
“It’d been just me and Aggie left this past while. Sure wasn’t she as lonely since that big lug of a farmer went and died on her in the big snow of ’82. I thought she’d go sooner but she’d so many fucking kids doting on her. The women always last longer, specially if they’ve a bit a land and artint worked to death like they useid be. Manys a man of my generation has maintained that the only way to escape them was death. Nowadays the young people are divorcing twice a week.”
Alfie was there in the Dominican church when it happened.
“We’d always share a joke going up to communion. ‘When are you ever just goin’ ta die Aggie?’ I’d say to her with a wink. She’d never respond. She was cold like that.
“So when she keeled over during the Acts of the Apostles I knew I was on to a good thing. Father Silvio, the dago priest, agreed with me in that there’d be no point in ringing the amblance right away as what better place to go in than in the Lord’s own house? ‘Let her soul have a wee gander around the place first Father,’ says I, ‘It’s what Aggie’d’ve wanted. She’d a great faith altogether.’”
Aggie passed away fifteen minutes later. Having finally achieved his life’s ambition, what now for Alfie?
“I’ve thought about joining one of them men shed things, just to watch them all croak it. But I wouldn’t get the same joy out of it…take too long to get to know ’em.
“I’m getting into cousints and famous old people now but there’s not the same rush. Maybe if three relatives perish in the same news bulletin I’d get that buzz, but it’s rare enough now. Good radon leaks are few and far between these days though I never tire of hearing about chip pan fires in the north. Will they ever learn tall a tall?
“You’re basically talking house fires, car crashes or carbon monoxide poisonings in the nursing homes. Sometimes I’d be thinking, will I? Could I? But I’m too old for that game now. I don’t have the mobility or quickness of thought to get away with it…”
Alfie can be seen at the early Dominican mass, though less frequently these days. A life lived.
Alfie Byrne has sadly shaken off his mortal coil since being interviewed. His dying wish was to have his ashes put in a trolley and fucked in the Boyne. He ordered his estate and records burnt.