'I feel a million dollars' – great-granddad (102) on overcoming terrifying robbery and his secrets to a happy life

An elderly man who was the target of a terrifying raid on his home last year has told how he refused to let it affect him as he prepares to celebrate his 102nd birthday.

Pat Gillespie was at his home at Railway Street in Strabane, Co Tyrone when three masked men forced their way in last October.

The gang held him in his chair while they ransacked his bedroom, rifled through his pockets and made off with cash, leaving him shaken.

But Pat, who turns 102 on Sunday, says he didn’t let the robbery impact on his life.

The bubbly centenarian was back laughing again within days, buoyed by the support he received from all over the world after his story appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.

“I wasn’t too happy about the burglary at the time,” he said. “I couldn’t understand why people would have done that to me. I never hurt a fly in my life.

“It made me very sad. But the support I got afterwards from all over the world was unbelievable.

“People reached out to me, helped me, sent me letters and sent me cards. It really did show me that there are some good people left in the world still.

“I haven’t looked back since.”

The much-loved inventor, who is well-known for his madcap car creations and once made a working car out of a bath, will celebrate his birthday with his eight children, 27 grandchildren and 31 great grandchildren.

And as he prepares to mark his 102 years on the planet, Pat had words of wisdom to pass on.

“I feel like a million dollars,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my birthday very much. I feel 100%, not 102-years-old at all. I’m feeling great.

“There is really no secret to long life. I make sure to laugh every day and I keep my mind occupied. I have plenty to keep my mind going here. I have my bikes to look after and my museum.

“I keep fit, I eat very little but I eat often. I don’t drink or smoke, I don’t have the time for it.

“I love talking to people. I think keeping my mind occupied with things, such as sports, inventing and making and breaking things keeps me going. I always have a few inventions in the pipeline, top secret things.”

Pat runs his own museum at the side of his home, which has a collection of wacky cars and 32 bikes, plus number plates from all over the world and miniature vehicles, plus his double-fronted Mini Cooper and his cars fashioned from baths.

He says he loves cars and bikes and is constantly dreaming up new methods of travel.

“I started off cycling in my early years,” he said.

“I got a bike off my brother Dan – who lived until he was 103. He was a cross-country champion. I’ve cycled all my life. Even this week, a few days before my 102nd birthday, I’m cycling up to my wife Eileen’s grave as I do every day in life. Hail, rain or snow, I’m there.

“I have an engine-powered bicycle which I charge up and go out on every day. It’s got a bit more power than the push bike.

“Before that I would have driven around in my old style American police car, or my bath car, or the car with two fronts, which is handy for one way streets.

“People shake their finger at me and say I shouldn’t be out on the bicycle at my age. There will come a day when I’ll not be fit and then I’ll agree with them. But until then, I’ll keep flying.”

Pat says he wouldn’t do a single thing differently if he had to live his 102 years all over again.

“I had a good life,” he added. “I really enjoyed life. I feel very good today, I don’t feel old at all. I feel about 38-and-a half and I can still touch my toes.

“I don’t take vitamins or any health supplement, I think that laughter is the best medicine. I have friends coming in here to me every day and we have a great laugh about the old days. That keeps me young.”

Pat is clearing a space for the mountain of birthday cards that will land through his letterbox. Last year he received greetings from Irish president Michael D Higgins and from as far away as Japan.

He says he has no plans to take to a rocking chair and become an old man.

“My time is occupied and I think that is a real secret to my long life, as well as laughing,” he said. “I love to see a smile on people’s faces, I love to hear people laugh. I’ve no time for doom and gloom.

“I don’t believe in rocking chairs and sitting with carpet slippers on. I haven’t got to that stage yet. I probably will.

“I honestly feel in my 30s. I feel fit and lively, and thank God I haven’t a pain or ache. I am hopeful and thankful for the way I am. I am very happy.”

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