We recently had a phone call with 81 year old, Fermanagh woman, Valerie McManus. Music has been a huge influence throughout Valerie’s life and at the age of 16 she won a local singing competition which catapulted her music career and saw her touring all across Ireland and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Philomena Begley and Big Tom!It’s clear from speaking to Valerie that two of her biggest passions in life are music and her family. Throughout our chat she spoke fondly of her late husband John who was a saxophone player in the band she sang with. You may also have heard of her sons, Pat, John and the late Tommy, or as they’re better known ‘Mama’s Boys’…it’s fair to say the gift of music runs in the family.Although life has brought her sorrow, namely the loss of two of her children and her husband; Valerie maintains she’s had a very fulfilling life and we think she is a truly inspiring lady.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I lived in Thompsons Bridge, near Derrylin in Fermanagh. I enjoyed music throughout my childhood and I loved to sing. Every year, a travelling show would come to Derrylin and they’d hold a singing competition. One year, I entered and won ten shillings. The lead singer of the ‘Starlight’ Showband was there and he asked if I would sing at a carnival as he was unavailable because he was attending a wedding. I did, and the rest as they say, is history.

What did/do you work at?

When I wasn’t touring with the band, I was kept busy on our family farm – I’m not afraid to get the hands dirty.

What has it been like living during the current pandemic?

It’s been very distressing. I’m used to the house being filled with people and music and laughter, but over lockdown I was home alone which has been a big change. I used to go to different social groups in my local area, but they’ve closed while all this is going on. Spending so much time alone has triggered a lot of emotions because I’m reflecting more on the loss of two of my children and my husband.

Thankfully I’ve got a great support network around me. During lockdown my daughter would have made sure I was never low on food and often would have dropped off groceries to my door.

What age has been the best age of your life? Why?

I don’t remember any period I didn’t enjoy. Everybody has their ups and downs but I honestly wouldn’t have change one hour of my life. I’ve lived it the best I could.

What in your opinion was the best decade? Why?

The 1950’s were great. I got married to John during this time and we had a lovely honeymoon spent in Bundoran. I was also doing a lot of touring with the band; we spanned the country from Cork to Tyrone.

Above: Valerie with her late husband John touring together with the 'Starlight' Showband

Proudest achievement?

My family and the wonderful life we’ve had together.

What would you say are the most difficult and most rewarding things about growing older?

Growing older is difficult. I have Alzheimer’s and the forgetfulness can be frustrating but you just have to get on with it. I’m blessed that I have so many happy memories and experiences of life to look back on.

What is the biggest misconception about getting older?

Getting older in a ‘normal’ world was just part of life, but the pandemic has caused a lot of distress and loneliness. Years ago, people were never alone, there was always a family member or a neighbour to call in on someone, but nowadays everything is so fast paced. There’s too much convenience with all the technology advances and often the older generation get left behind.

Any lasting words of wisdom for our readers?

What will be will be – lead a good life and treat people well.

Would you like to take part in our words of wisdom interview? Or do you know an inspirational older person(s) who is young at heart and defies the stereotype of an older person? Does your Granny love to surf? Or maybe you have a Grandad mad for skydiving? Perhaps your older parents are still working or are selfless volunteers continuing to make a difference to their community. If you know someone who fits the bill and who would be happy to be interviewed, we’d love to hear from you.

Get in touch by emailing communications@copni.org