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Ulster's oldest politician celebrates her 101st birthday

By Ivan Little

Published 24/08/2015

Molly with a birthday card and a medal from the Irish President
Molly with a birthday card and a medal from the Irish President
Molly meets soccer star George Best
Molly stands behind Princess Margaret and Earl Snowden during a royal visit to Ballymoney in 1963

Northern Ireland's oldest surviving politician, who's celebrating a special birthday today, has ruled out retiring from public service... at the age of 101.

Sprightly Mollie Holmes, a former Mayor of Ballymoney who became a councillor in 1955, said: "I still sit on a number of health and charitable bodies and I'll carry on as long as I'm able."

The redoubtable Mollie still lives in her own home in Ballymoney with her 68-year-old son James who lives with her and cares for her, though whenever possible she still cooks and bakes for the two of them as well.

Mollie will be the star of the show at a bash at The Lodge hotel in Coleraine tonight as friends and family mark her big day.

Born and raised on a farm just outside Ballymoney in 1914, just before the start of the First World War, Mollie has always been a rare breed in Northern Irish politics, as she has never owed allegiance to any party.

She said: "No, I was an independent from the start. I was brought up to be my own person without ties to anyone. I never wanted to become aligned to a party. And everybody knew what I was - the plain councillor. My driving force has always been a desire to help other people."

Mollie's impartial, no-nonsense approach earned her the respect of politicians of all shades in Ballymoney.

Councillors voted her into office as the town's mayor for an almost unheard of eight successive terms from 1977 to 1985.

"And she was always scrupulously fair in her dealings with everyone," said one former council colleague.

Mollie was made a Freeman of Ballymoney in April 1986. Which is a term that is somewhat at odds with her ground-breaking politics, as she was the first woman ever elected to the old Ballymoney Urban Council 60 years ago.

She even wrote a book about her career and a follow-up would need a chapter all of its own to list the bodies she served with distinction and dedication down the years.

This indefatigable Justice of the Peace sat on education boards, road safety and health committees as well as working with the Royal British Legion and numerous charities - and she's still a keen supporter of them all.

In recognition of her unstinting work on behalf of thousands of people, Mollie received an OBE in the 70s though that wasn't her only encounter with the Queen.

She said: "I was at Buckingham Palace to get my OBE and then Her Majesty invited my late husband Harold and me to a garden party. She's a tremendous monarch who has reigned magnificently and of course I got a message from her on my 100th birthday."

Two years before Mollie became a councillor she saw the Queen as she stopped in Ballymoney during her Coronation tour through Northern Ireland by train in July 1953. Mollie wasn't just a bystander of course. "No I was at the station as the leader of the St John Ambulance cadets. And I've never forgotten that day."

Three years ago she appeared on a BBC Northern Ireland TV programme called The Queen and Me, to share those memories of the royal visit to Ballymoney

Mollie has also met Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon but the former mayor enjoyed hosting celebrations for local heroes from the arts and sporting worlds.

A highlight was presenting George Best with a specially engraved watch in Ballymoney in 1985 when he came to play in an exhibition match.

"We had a very interesting conversation," said Mollie, who has always been a fan of Coleraine Football Club.

Dessie Dickson, one of the most prolific goalscorers in the Irish League, was a favourite of hers at the Showgrounds. Probably because he was from Ballymoney.

Not surprisingly Mollie was also proud of the achievements of all the motorcycle racers from Ballymoney who brought glory to the town.

Mollie's mood quickly changed as she talked about Ballymoney's most famous sporting son, Joey Dunlop.

"Joey was fantastic, a great fella. On one occasion when I entertained him and his family at a social function at Ballymoney Town Hall he gave me a beautiful trophy that he'd won. And it still has pride of place in my home.

"I was heartbroken when he was killed," said Mollie, who added that people come from all over the world to Ballymoney to see the memorials to Joey and his brother Robert.

Mollie, who has received a birthday medal from Irish President Michael D Higgins, has put her longevity down to clean living and eating good food.

"I'm not a teetotaller and I could take a glass of wine if I was pushed." said Mollie.

She still attends her local Church of Ireland regularly and joked: "They had a special service for me last year for my 100th birthday. They're going to have to have another one now and hopefully for another few years too."

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