BELLA Moulton has just celebrated her hundreth birthday at her home near Killyleagh.
With an amazing twinkle still in her eye, the spritely Bella chatted to Down News and reflected on her life which began in the same year that the First World War broke out.
She still gets around with the help of a walking frame and leads a very independent life with some support from her carers and family.
“The secret to my long life comes I suppose from a number of things. I never drank or smoked, and ate well and simply, and I always worked hard. I had one daughter and when she grew up I was divorced so you might say,” Bella joked, “Not having a husband may have something to do with that! And I had a very quiet social life too. But I must admit, I loved my Ulster fries for breakfast and maybe too that had something to do with it. “
“I’ve had a very interesting life and have seen lots of incredible changes. I can remember a time when there wa s no radio in our house. Many years a later black and white TV came on the go, then colour TV. And now the Internet seems to be all the rage. I wonder what will come next?” thought Bella.
“When I was a wee girl, there were no cars on the road really then. People got around on horses and carts. I started school in Ballymaghery near Raffrey and moved to Killinchy Woods in Crossgar. I remember we had a teacher called Mrs Gibson whose father owned a shop in Crosgar.
“I left school at fourteen and began work on the farm.
“We then moved to a farm on the Derryboye Road and in 1922 we bought the farm at Jericho Road where I still live. Everthing is called by roads and postcodes now. In those days we talked about the townlands.
“I worked in the farm when I was young. We had cattle mostly. We used to drive them on the road to the market in Crossgar. And if we didn’t get the price we wanted we had to walk all the way back with them to the farm. It was a simple life then but could be hard work at times.”
“Then in 1941 I married a soldier from Wales who was stationed over here. Harry Moulton was with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. His regiment stayed in Killyleagh Castle. We moved to Wrexham and my only daughter Marion was born there. I enjoyed life in Wrexham and worked in a leather works but we left in 1946 and my daughter and I came back to County Down.”
Bella said that unlike many people of her generation, she had not worked in the mills in Killyleagh. She remembered many people from her past now passed on, and said “when you get to my age, there are almost none of them left to talk to. But I still know a few older people who go to my church, the Killyleagh Second Presbyterian.”
But Bella while reflecting on the past, was cued up about what was going on in her own community in Killyleagh in the here-and-now. She said: “In my day, discipline was important in a family. A parent would have kept you under control and on the right road. It was for your own good. I think parents sometimes now lose control of their children. I heard yesterday about Clifford Healy in Killyleagh getting his pigeon loft burned down. Those sort of things never happened in my day. It was unthinkable. It is all about parental control. Parents need to be firmer for the sake of their children.”
Bella still enjoys good health although she suffered a mild heart attack a year ago. Until two years ago, the independent centenarian actually filled her own coal bucket and doggedly carried it in to the hearth.
And although Bella had said she wanted a “quiet” birthday, she received a magnificent surprise when her grandchildren who live in the United States arrived unexpectedly to wish her a very happy birthday. Bella has three grandchildren Robert, David and Sharon,and seven great-grand children, Helen, James, Rachel, Justin, Taylor, John and Adam.
“My daughter Marion Kirk passed away recently. She had lived close by. I am delighted that my family have all come together on this special occasion of my hundreth birthday. And I also received a card from Her Majesty the Queen which I am absolutely delighted with. It is a great honour.”
Council chairman Maria McCarthy said, “I was delighted to meet Bella and congratulate her on the occasion of her hundreth birthday.
“Bella is an absolute inspiration, telling me that the secret to her long and healthy life was ‘hard work.’ This was a very special occasion of Bella and her family, many of whom were there to celebrate the day with her.
“It was my pleasure to meet this lovely lady. I thoroughly enjoyed her company and enjoyed spending some time with her on this exceptional day.”
Councillor Robert Burgess added: “I certainly enjoyed visiting Bella on her birthday and wishing her many happy returns. She is very alert for her age and not many of us see out a century. She is a wonderful lady with great memories through her life and is a wealth of information. I hope she enjoys many more birthdays to come.”
Next door neighbour Ken Tait also spoke to Down News and said: “Bella took us under her wing when we moved in four yars ago. She is a great old lady and so incredibly sharp for her age. We had moved in from Lisbane and it wasn’t long before Bella had worked out all our family connections and we were really surprised to find out we were actually distantly related.
“Bella just loves a bit of company and a wee chat. She is a fantastic font of information about local people and places. Our current home is build on the area that used to be the orchard of her family farm beside what was an old mill.
“It’s great to see her in such good health. She was in hospital last year for a couple of months but is now in great shape and enjoying life.”