Irish family make Guinness World Record bid for oldest family with total age over 1,000 years
Life & Style

Irish family make Guinness World Record bid for oldest family with total age over 1,000 years

A NORTHERN Irish family of 13 siblings could be the world's oldest family with their ages totalling over 1,000 years. 

The Donnelly family from Co. Armagh range in age from the youngest at 71 to the oldest of 93.

They are featured in a new BBC documentary as they bid to become the Guinness World Records' oldest family.

The family, originally made up of 16 siblings with 11 boys and five girls, were raised in farming stock in a manor house at Collegelands outside of Moy in north Co. Armagh.

Their father Peter Donnelly bought the house and farm in 1921, and married his wife Ellen 1923, starting their family in 1925 when their eldest son Sean, who is now 93.


The remaining siblings after Sean, include Maureen, 92, Eileen, 90, Peter, 87, Mairead, 86, Anthony, 83, Terry, 81, Seamus, 80, Brian, 76, Kathleen, 75, Colm, 73, Leo, 71.

Altogether, their ages total 1,075 years.

Speaking as to the reason the family have enjoyed such long and healthy lives, brothers Seamus and Leo have interesting theories.

For Seamus, it's work that keeps them going, saying: "I find that my friends who are retired, they die and they're gone. They just fade away.

"If you do something to keep your brain going, something to keep your muscles going and something to give you an appetite everyday, it just keeps you going."

For Leo, however, 'it's in the soil.'

"People say it must be in the air, I think it must be in the soil," he said. "They talk a lot about these Mediterranean diets, and Japanese Sushi, all this and that throughout the world.


"I think we have just as good in our back fields," he says.

In the 30-minute documentary World’s Oldest Family due to air Monday, July 17 at 7.30pm, the lives of the extraordinary Irish family will be showcased over the course of several months as they attempt to prove to the world that they are indeed the oldest group of living siblings on the planet.

The Donnellys as they are today. (Picture: BBC One)

From the bleak sadness of an Armagh winter, when they lose their beloved brother Austin, who initiated the world record attempt to the excitement of their summertime family reunion at their old family home and the arrival of the all-important news of whether their record attempt was successful, viewers will see the ebb and flow of rural life amongst the Armagh orchards with the Donnellys.

As they gather essential evidence for the world record attempt, they unearth surprises in the back of drawers and cupboards buried for decades.

They also reflect on important moments in the family’s history, which coincide with local and world events as they explore the core reasons which have contributed to their long and healthy lives.


Presented by Irish broadcaster Angela Scanlon – the film paints a picture of a large rural family whose long lives are intertwined with each other and the Armagh countryside they love.

Angela, whose own father is one of 14, spends time with the Donnellys at work and play to unpick the reasons for their exceptional longevity.

Catch The Donnelly family on World's Oldest Family on BBC One July 17, at 7.30pm.