Athlone native Henry Arthur Saunders, who will turn 100 this week, pictured last Christmas with his great grandson, Ben-Henry Brady (11)

To Arthur! Mullagh man celebrates 100th birthday

In the summer of 1936, three years before the start of World War Two, and a few weeks before Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Olympics in Berlin, the gymnastics talent of Athlone teenager Arthur Saunders caught the eye of a Westmeath Independent reporter.

A school sports day was held in St Mel's Park and the gymnastics exhibition was "undoubtedly" its highlight, according to the paper, which praised the "exceptional and faultless exhibition" given by "Masters Featherstone, Browne, and Saunders."

His gymnastics days may be behind him, but Arthur Saunders is preparing to celebrate his 100th birthday today (Friday) and he remains "the fittest man you could ever meet, for that age," according to his daughter, Ann.

Currently living in Mullagh, County Cavan, Arthur is originally from Court Devenish and has a number of relatives still living in Athlone including his sister, Audrey, who celebrated her 88th birthday in August.

Growing up, he attended Athlone Technical School and started working in the town's Woollen Mills while still in his teens.

His daughter said Arthur picked up a nickname - Soko - because he used to read a comic which featured a teacher called 'Soko Saunders'.

In 1941, the onset of World War Two meant there was no work for him at the Woollen Mills and he decided to emigrate to England. He met his future wife, Teresa Clarke from Trim, County Meath, in London in 1947.

They went on to have two daughters and a son - Ann, Pauline, and Derek - and Arthur currently has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Most of his career, some 33 years, was spent working on the railway network in London. He retired in 1985 but only moved back to Ireland with his wife approximately 20 years ago.

Sadly, Arthur's wife passed away a number of years ago, but he continues to reside with his daughter, Ann, and is a popular figure in his adopted home of Mullagh, where locals described him as "an amazing man and a great character."

He was chosen to turn on the Christmas lights in the village last December, and a socially-distanced birthday celebration is being planned for this Friday.

His sister in Athlone, Audrey McCormack would love to visit him for his birthday but unfortunately can't do so due to the current Covid-19 restrictions. However, they are both looking forward to seeing each other again when the restrictions are lifted.

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