There's no-one quite like grandma — especially when she’s made it to her 107th birthday.
Maria McQuillan, known to friends and family as ‘grandma’, celebrated the big 107 with friends and family at the City Way Day Centre on Sandy Row.
Asked to explain her long and healthy life, Mrs McQuillan, who lives in south Belfast, said: “I don’t know, I just live from day to day.
“I don’t drink, except maybe a wee Bailey’s. I’ve never smoked and I only ever had one man,” she added, referring to husband William who died 40 years ago.
“I feel good that I have been allowed to stay so long and I thank God my mind’s clear.”
Before a crowd of well-wishers, including Lord Mayor Tom Hartley, Mrs McQuillan said she had enjoyed her school days — but they were short-lived. “I was taken out of school aged 14 and went to work in the weaving factory. I started work there at 6.30am,” she recalled, with her first pay-packet just four shillings.
Mrs McQuillan, a fan of Coronation Street who enjoyed reading romances until her eye-sight declined, wouldn’t be drawn on the many historical events she has lived through (see panel).
But Mr Hartley, who pecked the birthday girl on the cheek and sang Happy Birthday, said: “When Maria was born phones were in their infancy and so were cars. We had a Czar and a Kaiser, and the Boer War had just finished — to say nothing of all the 20th century history she lived through.”
Mrs McQuillan’s son Billy (72), an only child, said he could not remember ever being smacked by his mother.
“She is a loving mother but she was strict in her own way. I only had to look at her to know I had done wrong,” he said.
As a smoker, he isn’t following his mum’s healthy lifestyle to the letter. “I’d crack up if I tried to give up,” he added.
Best friend Nan Lamb will herself be 84 next week. “She’s a lovely, quiet and reserved woman,” Ms Lamb said about her friend.
“She’ll be here next year, too,” Ms Lamb predicted.
Mrs McQuillan also has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The history in Maria's timeline
1902: Boer War ends and Edward VII is king. Arthur Balfour becomes British Prime Minister in July, succeeding fellow Conservative Marquess of Salisbury. Maria McQuillan is born in Belfast.
1910: Teddy Roosevelt becomes first American President to ride in an airplane. George V succeeds Edward VII and Liberal Herbert Asquith is Prime Minister.
1914: World War One breaks out following assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Foundation is laid for a US political dynasty as Joseph Kennedy marries Rose Fitzgerald in Boston.
1918: Following long campaign by ‘suffragettes’, UK women over 30 are granted the vote.
1920: Prohibition in US bans alcohol and Government of Ireland Act to partition the country is presented in Parliament.
1939: Second World War begins with Nazi invasion of Poland.
1959: Vietnam War begins.
1969: Operation Banner sees British troops sent to Northern Ireland. The ‘Troubles’ begin.
1975: Margaret Thatcher becomes leader of the Conservative Party and Bill Gates sets up Microsoft. Vietnam War ends and Franco steps down as Spanish head of state.
1990: Nelson Mandela is released from prison.
1998: Good Friday Agreement heralded as bringing peace to Northern Ireland after 30 years of ‘Troubles’.
2001: 9/11 terror attacks on World Trade Centre in New York and other US locations kill 3,000 people and lead to George W Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
2009: Democrat and lawyer Barack Obama becomes first African-American President of the US. Two soldiers and a PSNI officer murdered by dissident republicans.