top of page
  • cma196

As Nana Would Say, "All the Way Back to Ireland"

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

This is Rose McCabe, my great-great-great grandmother. She was born in 1866 in Co Cavan, in the province of Ulster.

In 1882, she travelled on a steamship, "The City of Brussels", from Cobh, Co Cork when she was only 14 – though she listed 16 on her ticket– to meet her elder sister, Bridget, in New York City and start a new life. She was working as a chambermaid when she met her husband and started our family.

It's been speculated in family lore that Rose was about 23 when this photo was taken. Irish-born women living in New York at this time were known to be tight with their purses, and Rose was no exception. I’ve come to interpret this photo to be a necessary extravagance. An announcement of her success, of having attained security in a new country all on her own. My Nana prays to this very portrait every night before she goes to bed, her soft fingers brushing against the well-polished glass. My family is comprised of strong, inspiring, uncompromising women.

In April of this year, my Mom and I finally made the pilgrimage from Maryland to New York to visit Rose's grave, the first of the family to visit her in decades. Her final resting place is at St. Raymond Old Cemetery in the Bronx, just off I-95. The graveyard website has no photo documentation of the grave on record, and Mom and I both feared Rose may have been sleeping in an unmarked plot, surrounded by sea of Irish and Italian names.

In the late afternoon sun, at the end of a long row of names going back to Tipperary and Cork, we spied a russet-colored stone. Rose Lee Bell. Mom dropped to her knees, pressing her fingers into the grooves of the name. Neither of us had anticipated for Rose and Bridget to be buried in the same tomb. We popped a bottle of champagne. I poured some bubbles over the grave, speculating that the ladies might be thirsty after all these years, and Mom and I each took turns introducing the other to our dear ancestors.

Rose never returned to Ireland; she maintained that it was a place filled with gloom and loss. Upon her departure, all the corners of the country had been feeling the devastation of An Gorta Mór-- and there had been no jobs, or any farmland to attain through marriage or bloodline. My Nana was the first of our family to return to Ireland in the 80's. She located her namesake in Co Cavan, a small village named Virginia. Though there's no written record of it, our family speculates this is the town Rose and Bridget had emigrated from nearly a century before.

If only Rose could see Ireland now.

My Nana, Mom, and I, we see it for her.

30 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page