Rosslare's generation game
Dr Diarmuid O'Driscoll with Lucia Donohoe at Rosslare

Dr Diarmuid O'Driscoll with Lucia Donohoe at Rosslare

Heading for 99 with a golf club in your hand doesn't sound like most people's idea of fun but for nonagenarian Dr Diarmuid O'Driscoll, the game remains an endless source of fun and exercise.

We're open to correction, but we'd venture that Rosslare Golf Club is likely unique in Irish golf in having two members separated by almost 90 years.

Not only does 98-year-old former consultant obstetrician Dr O'Driscoll regularly hit the links, but the club also boasts the talents of nine-year-old member Lucia Donohoe.

"I have been playing golf since I was 11 or 12 but only as a hobby," said the sprightly Dr O'Driscoll, who plays a half a dozen holes on Rosslare's 12-hole Burrow Course almost every week. 

“I never competed  — the game has always been a pastime — but I still love it even if never got my handicap down below 18," added Dr O'Driscoll, whose 99th birthday falls on June 12. 

"I was born in the town of Kildare and played the little, nine-hole course at Cill Dara from the time I was a child. Then I went to Clongowes to boarding school and we had a little nine-hole course there too. So I could play when I wanted.

"When I went to study medicine at UCD, I never joined a club but paid my green fee at various Dublin clubs when I felt like playing."

As a young doctor, he attended those injured during the bombing of Dublin's North Strand and worked England during the war, serving at one stage as a ship's doctor in the Merchant Navy, before moving home with his wife Frances.

He was in Galway from 1948 to 1968 and while eight children came along, and many more delivered for his patients, he never stopped playing the game.

"I played at Galway Golf Club when I was there and Christy O'Connor Snr was the caddie master, so my one claim to golfing fame is that I played with Christy O'Connor before he was ever heard of."

Fishing was another love though both his efforts with rod and putter were frequently interrupted by calls from the hospital.

"Those days in Galway our rivers were less polluted than today, and much more plentiful, and I was a keen fisherman," he said when reflecting on his 60-year career for the journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 

"I remember on one occasion I was fishing in a small river about ten miles from Galway. I had just hooked a salmon when I saw a Garda running towards me. When he reached the river he announced, 'you are wanted immediately at the hospital.' 

"Was I to cut the line and let the salmon go? With some luck, and perhaps a certain amount of skill I landed the fish, then proceeded in the car to the hospital to deliver the baby. 

"So I had landed a salmon and delivered a baby within half an hour. Similar interruptions would become a feature of my pastimes and later, when I lived in Wexford, many a golf game was interrupted with dashes from the links to the hospital."

Dr O'Driscoll joined Rosslare in 1968 and as an honorary member, he still uses the same clubs he was given as a retirement present by the nurses in Wexford Hospital more than 30 years ago.

So I had landed a salmon and delivered a baby within half an hour.
— Dr Diarmuid O'Driscoll

"I still play seven to nine holes once a week, though you might not call it golf," he joked. "And I still pull my 'wagon' behind me. It keeps me fit, that's why I keep playing. It is a great form of exercise in your latter years."

The good doctor had a fascinating career, working in the UK during the war and serving as a ship's doctor in the merchant navy. 

He was in Buenos Aires on board a ship taking 40,000 sides of beef to US troops preparing to invade Japan when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, giving him the chance to go ashore upon his return to London.

Dr Diarmuid and his daughter

Dr Diarmuid and his daughter

"I was the county obstetrician in Wexford from 1968 and I worked in Iraq and the UK, where I spent eight years during the war and then in Galway for 20 years.

"After I had retired from the hospital in Wexford, where I was the county obstetrician from 1968, I didn't stop practising medicine, and that's when it got interesting. 

"I worked in Iraq and attended the wife of Chemical Ali [Ali Hassan al-Majid], which is interesting now with the recent gas attack in Syria. He gave me a gift of small carpet, which is still in my home." 

He has no ambitions to break his age, just continue enjoying the joys of golf in the sunny south-east.

"I doubt I'll ever break my age but if I were to remain in my present state of health and activity there is always hope but at my age, it can all change overnight," he said.

"Rosslare is a lovely dry, sandy links course and it is flat and that's why, as an elderly person, I can still play there. There are no hills and it's playable all year. And it's very pleasantly situated."

As for nine-year-old Lucia Donohoe, a second class pupil from Scoil Mhuire Rosslare, golf is just one of the loves of her life.

The school playground backs directly onto Rosslare Golf Club and as the club's youngest member, she joins her sister Marykate and brother Rory on the links when she is not involved in soccer, athletics, tennis or camogie. 

Her love of the game stems from her grandfather, Jimmy Donohoe, who won the Rosslare Captain's Prize in 2004 and they regularly bond at the links. 

Rosslare Golf Club has a busy girls section, run by Elizabeth Callaghan, which will embark on a taster programme under the CGI's Golf4Girls4Life programme next month.

Lucia’s father often describes her as “my ticket to the Olympics” but if she can follow in Dr O’Driscoll's footsteps and play golf for another 90 years, that would be an achievement as remarkable as any gold medal performance.

This piece first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green golf supplement on 13 April 2017