‘A heroic and gentle lady, a true neighbour and a steadfast friend’
Clonard's Nancy Stewart, who died peacefully on Friday just a month short of her 108th birthday, was described as “an inspiration to millions of people” and “a living saint,” at her funeral mass on Sunday at in St Finian’s Church, Clonard.
Believed to have been the oldest woman in Ireland, she was also described as “a heroic and gentle lady, a loving mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother, a true neighbour and a steadfast friend.”
Chief concelebrant, Fr John Keegan said she was always ready to give a helping hand to a neighbour in need.
“She was always willing to go the extra mile with the one who needed support.
“Her generous heart extended beyond the confines of the parish. She helped near and far and in particular people in distant lands though her generous donations and support.”
Fr Breen told the congregation she had died in her own home at Towlagh, Clonard, in her own bed with her much loved daughter Olive and granddaughter Louise by her side.
Fr Breen said he had been in awe of her and considered her a living saint.
“I first met her when she was a sprightly 101 years old. She told me how her husband died in 1989 and she had been seriously injured herself.
“That accident happened as they were turning into this church to go to Mass.
“And yet with the unquestioning faith of a saint, Nancy said she accepted God's will.
“She also said that whenever we are faced with tragedies we must trust God and believe he will make all things right in the end.
“From that moment on, I was in awe of Nancy and considered her a living saint.”
Fr Breen said it was no exaggeration to say that because of the way her granddaughter Louise had creatively used the Facebook social media platform, “many millions of people worldwide had been inspired by Nancy's wise words, simple faith and sincere prayer, since the beginning of the pandemic.
“A light has gone out in the hearts of her family, the local community and millions of people worldwide.
“A really great person has departed this world.”
Fr Tom Gilroy and Fr Declan Murray also participated in the ceremony and burial in St Finian's cemetery.
Anne (Nancy) Stewart, nee Bird was born in October 2013 in Castlerickard.
She was predeceased by her husband, Bob, her twin daughters Margaret and Ann and sons in law Joe and Michael.
She is survived by her children, Finian (Bob), Kathleen, Mary and Olive, her daughter in law Alcoque, sons in law Des, John, Mattie, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, her much-loved carers, neighbours and her many friends.
In a poignant post on social media, granddaughter Louise Coghlan wrote: “What will I do without my beautiful smiling Nancy? Broken heart waking up this morning to only one cup of tea needing to be made…this incoming grief is going to be a titanic heartbreak in my life but one thing I’m sure, Nancy definitley put on my life jacket before she left, I just need to float.”
Local councillor, Joe Fox who presented Nancy with a certificate and flowers on her 107th birthday said she was “an inspirational woman with a brilliant attitude to life.”
In the early days of the coronavirus Nancy appealed to people not to panic buy or stress and then last October at the age of 107, she penned an open letter to the people of Ireland which caught the imagination of the nation.
“We are in another stage of this battle against the virus but we will get through this. Like everything I’ve been through since the day I was born in 1913, no matter how bad things have got, I’m the living proof that we can survive and in years to come, this will just be a distant memory.”
When Nancy celebrated her 107th birthday last year, her beloved Clonard community was determined to mark the occasion in style.
Cars arrived in their hundreds at Clonard GAA grounds with balloons, bunting and special ‘Nancy 107’ number plates as the wellwishers prepared to set off in convoy to Nancy’s cottage a mile from the village.
Nancy, however, had other ideas and arrived at the grounds in her granddaughter and carer Louise’s Coghlan’s car. She smiled out from the window while enthusiastically waving the Tricolour, thanking the startled volunteers she’d caught by surprise.
Nancy attributed her long life to “good food, good friends and staying positive.”
“You also should look on the bright side all the time, no matter what. Don't dwell on the past,” she said.