Bessie, from County Leitrim, "was a wonderful and a loving mother and it is important that we remember her."
I heard her name often while growing up. My father reminded me, "Her name was Bridget Creegan but everyone called her Bessie."
My father was a devoted family man and with that came our Saturday night tradition of playing his old records on his Victrola. My sister and I danced around our living room and it was always fun and upbeat until he played the song, "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral" a song about a mother's love for her child.
As we heard Bing Crosby's voice in the background my sister and I climbed onto my father's lap and we listened to him tenderly speak about his mother. Each time he played the song a tear would fall from his eye. I asked him, "What's wrong Daddy?" I noticed the change in his demeanor and the sadness that fell upon his face when he spoke of his mother. Even at my young age, I understood how important she was to him. I knew how much he had missed her. He told me, "She was a wonderful and a loving mother and it is important that we remember her."
My Irish American father, Edwin Concannon, was born in New York in 1929. He never made it to Ireland before he died in 2011, but he often told me as a child I might go. He smiled, "Maybe one day you'll go to Ireland and visit the town where Bessie was born and where she lived." At the time, I never could have imagined that I would have the opportunity to do that one day.
I now know he was planting a seed for me to go and visit Ireland and to find out more about his family. And, almost fifty years would go by before I did go to Ireland for the first time.
Bessie Creegan was born in Killyvehy, County Leitrim on September 15, 1887. She emigrated to New York at the age of 14 and later married Frank Concannon, an Irish American from upstate New York. My father, who was born in 1929, was Bessie's fourth child.
On June 2, 1933, Bessie and Frank went to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, to deliver her fifth child. Her baby boy was born healthy but Bessie died from a postpartum hemorrhage just after her baby was born. Frank returned home that evening to tell his children their mother would not be coming home. My father was three years old. The following year, Frank died and the children were split up. My Dad was placed in Holy Angels orphanage in New York. He was never adopted.
Bessie's brother, Matthew and his wife adopted the baby and named him Matthew Jr. Bessie's sister Anne kept in touch with my father's older siblings. The only document my father had from his family was a handwritten note from Anne on tissue paper which reads, "Deed for grave bought by Mrs. Anne Lamb June 3, 1933. Buried in the grave is Bridget Concannon, my sister." Every couple of years my father would pull an old fireproof tin from under his bed and he would hold the document to show me and to remind me that it was there.
Before my first trip to Ireland, I found the note and I wondered about Bessie and her sister Anne. I wondered about her family in Ireland and what had happened to them. My father and his siblings had all passed and how would I ever learn more information about them? I accepted that I would not learn anything else about any of them and off to Ireland I went in 2013. My niece and I toured Dublin and Galway and we had a wonderful time.
We decided to take a ride to Cloone in County Leitrim to see the town where Bessie lived. A chance encounter in a pub in Cloone led me to newly found cousins and more information about Bessie's family. I learned about Bessie's parents, my great grandparents, and I visited Bessie's old homestead. While I was there I bent down and I collected stones and brought them back to my home in New Jersey. Bessie remained a mystery to me. I didn't know what she looked like or the exact location of her grave. I drove two and a half hours from my home in South Jersey to St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx to try and locate Bessie's grave. I made the trip three times and I searched in the section Anne listed but I could not locate the grave.
I called the cemetery's office and I pleaded with them for their help. They agreed to have a cemetery worker meet me to help me to find Bessie's grave. Two young Italian men met me and they assured me, "We'll find your grandmother today - we promise we will."
I was filled with excitement that I may finally know where Bessie's grave was located. The young men found Bessie's grave that day. The area was overgrown with weeds and there was no headstone on the grave.
Poor Bessie was buried 80 years ago and there was no headstone to mark her grave.
I went to the cemetery's office and a woman who worked there looked through old books from the 1930s and she told me, "There is another person buried with her." "Who?" I asked. The woman looked back at the book and said, "She is buried with her sister, Anne." I was elated. Not only did I find my grandmother's grave but I found Anne too. After all, it was Anne's note which led me to the cemetery in the first place.
I was heartbroken for Anne and Bessie that there was no headstone for them for so many years. While Anne was blessed to live well into her 90s - Bessie's life ended at the age of 46. She left a loving husband and five children behind. Her parents who still lived in Ireland survived her. I decided to purchase a headstone for Anne and Bessie. As I was leaving the cemetery office the woman shouted to me, "Hey honey, there's room in the grave for one more." I walked across the street to the monument shop and I decided I will take the third spot in the grave when my time comes. I think it is the perfect way to honor my father. I never knew a grandparent and Bessie died before her grandchildren were born. It was my father - her little boy - who connected us.
Before I left the cemetery that day I place two bouquets - one for Bessie and one for Anne - on their graves. I reached in my pocket and took out the stones that I took from their homestead in Ireland. I knelt down and placed the stones on their grave.
A year ago another grandchild of Bessie's, the son of the baby, Matthew Jr. who was born on the day Bessie died, sent me a picture his family found of Bessie. In the picture, she is young and beautiful and she looks happy. I treasure the picture of her.
My father would be thrilled to know that I found Bessie's grave. All of her grandchildren now know where Bessie is buried. I had the monument shop carve shamrocks on the headstone to honor Bessie and Anne's Irish heritage. While it is bittersweet to me that I didn't find her grave while my father was alive, I am comforted to know that future generations will know exactly where to find her.
It was important to my father that his mother was remembered. I know Bessie would have been so proud of the man her little boy grew up to be. I am too.
Happy Mother's Day to my beloved grandmother Bessie Creegan Concannon.
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