Belfast Telegraph

Remarkable dying wish of 107-year-old Presbyterian granted as rebel Catholic priest will today bury her

By Suzanne Breen

Independent Catholic cleric, Pat Buckley, will today bury a 107-year-old Ballyclare Presbyterian in a remarkable cross-community service.

Peggy Dunbar, who is believed to have been Northern Ireland's oldest woman, took a shine to the rebel priest when he married her eldest daughter over 25 years ago.

She never forgot him and her last wish was that he bury her. Mrs Dunbar died of pneumonia on Tuesday. Her body has lain at rest in Bishop Buckley's church, the Oratory, in Larne.

Her funeral service will take place today and she will be buried afterwards in Victoria Cemetery in Carrickfergus.

"I am honoured to have been asked to bury Peggy," Bishop Buckley told the Belfast Telegraph. "In a narrow Northern Ireland, she has made a quiet, simple gesture of non-sectarianism.

"She was open, tolerant and cross-community minded, and she is going out of this world the way she lived."

Mrs Dunbar's daughter Judith said that her mother had died just six days before her 108th birthday. "My mother was a remarkable woman. She lived through two World Wars and the sinking of the Titanic," Judith said.

"She never left the island of Ireland - she didn't fancy flying and she didn't like the water so that ruled out boats as well. But the fact that she chose not to travel didn't in any way make her narrow-minded.

"She was totally non-judgmental and she had a great sense of fun. Mum didn't drink but she'd be happy, sitting with her mineral, in the company of those who did."

Peggy Melville was born on February 20, 1909 in Whiterock in Belfast which was then just countryside. The daughter of a publican, she had three sisters and one brother.

In 1936, she married Ballyclare farm worker, John Dunbar, whom she had met at a cricket club. They had two daughters. John died after falling from a ladder in 1959 aged 44.

Although born a Presbyterian, Peggy Dunbar occasionally attended St Patrick's Church of Ireland in Jordanstown because she liked the singing.

"Mum grew up playing the piano and the violin. She loved singing and dancing. Just three weeks before her death, her foot was tapping away when there was music on the radio," Judith said.

"Mum had interests you would never expect. She loved watching Formula 1, football, rugby and racing on the TV. She was very active right into her 90s. She would be out working in her garden in Ballyclare until dark.

"She loved to bake too. I still remember the smell of the most gorgeous tarts, pies and pancakes filling the kitchen as a child and my big sister Joan standing there licking the bowl."

Judith said that her mother had been thrilled to be sent €2,500 from Irish President, Mary McAleese, when she turned 100 as everyone born on the island of Ireland before partition is entitled to. She received a medal from Aras an Uachtarain every birthday after that.

"This year's medal from President Michael D Higgins arrived the day after mum died, it was very poignant opening it," Judith said.

Mrs Dunbar also received cards from the Queen on her 100th, 106th and 107th birthdays. The oldest person ever from Northern Ireland is believed to have been Belfast woman Elizabeth Watkins, who reached the ripe old age of 110 before she died in 1973.

Bishop Buckley last night said that it was "an immense privilege" for him to be asked to conduct the funeral service.

"Peggy was born five years before the outbreak of the First World War and she was 44 when the Second World War broke out. She was literally walking history," he said.

Bishop Buckley first met Mrs Dunbar when he married her daughter Joan to Seamus Tansey from Sligo, one of Ireland's best known flute players who taught dancer Michael Flatley to play the instrument.

"I remember Peggy from the wedding. She took people just as she found them and she was a character, a bit like myself," Bishop Buckley recalled.

"My door is always open to people of all religions and none. Asking me to bury her is a lovely gesture.

"Without making any great noises, Peggy embodied the spirit of reconciliation in life and in death."

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