Belfast Telegraph

Apples and abstinence... secret of the Donnelly clan from Co Armagh, world's oldest family

By Staff Reporter

Apples, sport and sobriety are named among the secrets to a long life by Northern Ireland siblings who have a combined age of 1,075 years.

The Donnelly family - now comprising eight brothers and five sisters - are aged between 71 and 93, and officially went into the Guinness World Records list this summer as the world's oldest family.

In a new BBC documentary the siblings, who grew up in Collegeland on the Armagh/Tyrone border, give their theories on how they have stayed so hale and hearty into their twilight years.

In the documentary, which followed them over two years to this summer, a simple, healthy lifestyle of sport, fresh fruit and vegetables and a vigorous work ethic have all been given as the ingredients for their longevity.

"We are in the land of youth," said the eldest, Maureen.

Her youngest brother Leo (71) puts it down to something in the soil.

"They talk about these Mediterranean diets and this Japanese sushi, all this and that throughout the world, but we think we've got just as good in our back fields," he said, referring to his youth spent on his father's apple farm.

"Apples have been running through our veins since before we were born.

"My daddy got into apples in the 1930s."

He also believes staying away from alcohol has added to the siblings' years.

"There is not a single drinker in this family. It would certainly help," he said.

The family, originally made up of 11 boys and five girls, were raised in an imposing manor house on the apple farm outside Moy.

Leo, who still lives in the period home, says there was generally "a baby a year" after his parents Peter and Ellen married in 1923.

His late twin Austin sadly passed away just over a year-and-a-half ago.

The remaining siblings are Sean (93), Maureen (92), Eileen (90), Peter (87), Mairead (86), Anthony (83), Terry (81), Seamus (80), Brian (76), Kathleen (75), Colm (73) and Leo (71).

Asked about the recipe for long life, Terry said: "When you're young, if you get good food it's built into your bones and that's what will give you longevity."

The updated documentary reveals how Austin originally started the quest to get the family written into history, but he sadly died on Christmas Day in 2015 at the age of 70.

Leo, who took over the baton from his twin, was emotional as he spoke about Austin's mission on the day they were officially declared the world's oldest family by a Guinness adjudicator in the family's home place this summer with all the siblings gathered around.

"It really is a fantastic feeling. A feeling of completion," he said,

"I can see Austin smiling down at us right now saying 'well done'".

World's Oldest Family, BBC One this Monday, July 17, at 7.30pm.

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