Pat Gillespie (101) smiling again five days after attack by gang of thugs in Strabane
The 100-year-old Strabane man who was robbed in his home on Friday night has said he feels like the world has given him "a big hug" since his frightening ordeal.
Pat Gillespie, a well-known and much-loved figure in the town, has been inundated with messages of support since three masked men forced their way into his Railway Street home.
The gang held him in his chair while they ransacked his bedroom, rifled through his pockets and made off with cash, leaving him shaken.
"I really was shocked at what happened," he said.
"I couldn't understand why it happened to me.
"I was very lucky that I had money in my pocket, because it wouldn't have mattered where you had it hidden, they would have got it anyway. And they would have got it by force.
"When I think that I could have ended up in the hospital, I'm happy enough that I didn't end up there."
Since then the colourful centenarian has kept himself busy in his museum and invention space to lift his mind.
And he has been bowled over by the outpouring of goodwill from people who have got in touch.
He said: "I am beginning to brighten up a bit and be a bit more thankful to the people who called with me and called on the phone," he said.
"One lady brought me a big bag of buns, others sent cards.
"It's like a big hug. It has shown me that there are a lot of great people in the world and it's a great pleasure to meet them."
Pat said that he had decided to try to get something positive from the situation.
He has shown many more people around his museum, which has a collection of wacky cars and 32 bikes, plus number plates from all over the world and miniature vehicles, not to mention his double-fronted Mini Cooper and his cars fashioned from baths.
"I love inventing things and making people laugh. It's what keeps me going," he said.
"When I was at school I didn't like it. Instead, I was always down at Buchanan's Garage on the Railway Road.
"As kids we were allowed to drive the cars into the garage at 6pm. The odd time we would take them for a run around the canal. I worked for 25 years in that garage, I was so interested in cars.
"My first car was an Austin Seven and it cost me £15. Years later I bought two Mini Coopers, I cut them in two and I joined them together to have two fronts.
"I always maintained that they are handy for going up one-way streets. I loved cutting up cars and bicycles and making new things with them.
"I cut up a 100-year-old bed frame and made a bicycle with it, I put handlebars and wheels on it. I rode it up and down the street and people would laugh away.
"It made me think, if people are laughing they must like it and it must be good.
"I had an old-style American police car that had the loudest siren you ever heard. They are just gimmicks, I love to make people laugh and giggle at my antics.
"I always maintain that laughter in Strabane at one time was a very scarce commodity and I wanted to change that."
Pat will celebrate his 101st birthday on December 2. His brother Dan lived until he was 103 and his sister Ginny until she was 97.
He said the secret to a long life was much laughter and keeping the brain ticking over.
"I think the secret is keeping your mind occupied," Pat said. "I'm continually thinking on something, working on something. As long as your mind is thinking on something, you'll be happy.
"And I was always buying, dealing, wrecking, breaking and making things.
"That kept me out of mischief and I love to laugh and hear people laugh. When you laugh, all your troubles go to the one side. I think it's great."
Pat was married to Eileen for 70 years and together they raised eight children - five girls and three boys. His beloved wife died 23 years ago and he misses her every day.
"Eileen and I were married for over 70 years," he said. "She was a fantastic woman, the greatest ever.
"The only time we ever had words, it was about one thing - dancing. She loved dancing and I hated it.
"I miss her terribly but I go out to her (grave) every day on my bike. I never miss a visit."
Pat's home is now covered in cards from all over Northern Ireland and beyond and he has been inundated with messages of support since his story appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.
One woman from Switzerland offered to give him £500 to replace the money that was stolen, but Pat said he would rather meet her than take her money.
"I really don't want anything to do with money," he said. "I feel terrible. I would feel like a beggar and I don't want that.
"I can't believe the lady contacted the Belfast Telegraph from Switzerland. She is the sort of person I'd like to meet.
"I'd love to invite her over to Strabane. I might not have a comfortable bed, but I've a sleeping bag she can have."
Pat said the amazing response to his ordeal has confirmed that there are still "very good, kind people in the world".
He said: "The lady from Switzerland and those who have sent me cards, visited and rung me prove that.
"Someone sent me a card last night and it had £20 in it.
"It is so nice of them, but I really don't want people collecting money for me. I have as much money that will bury me.
"I have that left by and I don't need anything else. I am happy, I don't want money."