THE sad passing of Ireland’s oldest woman, Dorothea Findlater, has severed a precious link with events of Easter Week 1916.
Dorothea, who died on Monday, was just five weeks short of her 108th birthday. She was also an accomplished sportswoman, having represented Ireland in two different sports.
Two years ago, she was one of the stars of the documentary film, Older Than Ireland, which focused on several people over the age of 100. She died at 3am on Monday morning at Abilene, the family home in Blackrock, Co Dublin.
“She just quietly slipped away,” her eldest son, Alex, said. “She was a wonderful and loving mother and grandmother.”
She was born Dorothea de Courcy-Wheeler on December 27, 1909. As a child of seven, she was taken by her mother to the top of the water tower in the Curragh Camp to see the flames of Dublin burning in the distance during Easter Week 1916.
In an interview with The Irish Times last year, she said: “I remembered climbing to the top of the tower in the Curragh with my mother, and watching a mass of flames across the sky. The whole horizon was ablaze.”
Her father, Capt Harry de Courcy-Wheeler, was present at the surrender of Patrick Pearse following The Rising. He was the organiser of the Curragh Camp.
During Easter Week 1916, he was appointed staff captain to Gen William Lowe for the duration of The Rising. In that capacity, de Courcy-Wheeler was pictured opposite Patrick Pearse in the famous, grainy picture of the surrender, accompanied by Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell.
A graduate of Trinity, Dorothea met and, in 1932, married Dermot Findlater, from a well-known family of Dublin merchants. Dermot died in 1962.
Dorothea was an outstanding sportswoman and became an Irish hockey international, winning her first cap in 1936.
She also represented Ireland at golf and was recently made an honorary member of Carrickmines Golf Club.
Not one to let old age get in the way of her enjoyment, Dorothea was a member of Carrickmines Golf Club, where she competed in putting competitions until she was 100.
Dorothea’s passion for rugby was legendary. Pride of place on her mantelpiece is a large signed photo of Peter Stringer, which the Munster man sent her as a 100th birthday present.
“There was no one like Stringer for whipping a ball out of a scrum,” she recalled in her interview. In 2014, she was a guest of honour at the Aviva Stadium, where she was introduced to the crowd as Leinster’s oldest supporter. Afterwards, she met with players such as Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip.
Dorothea believed that as you get older, you are hampered by your inability to do the things you love. “I find I can’t get around quickly enough. I can’t get on with the garden. I used to do a lot of gardening. Now I’m afraid I may topple over and fall into the rose bed!” she laughed.
When it comes to a long life, Dorothea’s philosophy was simple: “Keep doing what you always did. Don’t sit back and say, ‘I can’t’ – just go on doing it. There’s no full-stop mark; just go on.”
She is survived by four of her children: Alex, Grania, Suzanne and John. She had nine grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
One of her grandchildren is our esteemed colleague at Dublin Gazette, Stephen Findlater, The Gazette’s Sports Editor.
In an article in The Irish Times, a subheading reads: ‘Dorothea Findlater was likely the last person alive who remembers the Easter Rising.’ She might not have been political, but she is very much a part of our history. Rest in Peace, Dorothea.