It’s a piece of antique furniture that brought two women together from thousands of miles apart.
Lee Newsom and Gillian Crawford (nee McLaughlin) had no idea of the amazing connection between them.
Lee, a professor of Archaeology from Pennsylvania had always wanted to find out more about her Irish ancestors, but all she knew was that they came from a place called Ballymultimber in County Derry.
“Every time I searched online nothing came up,” she said.
But that all changed last October when Lee put the word into Google and up came Ballymultimber Cottages.
On the website Lee saw a picture of a piece of furniture which looked very familiar - a dresser that had been made by her great grandfather Robert John Martin and whose name was inscribed inside.
It turns out that Lee’s second cousin Cissie Begley who once lived in a cottage in Ballymultimber had inherited the dresser from her uncles.
After Cissie’s death the family who looked after her, including Gillian McLaughlin and her father, Alex, kept on the cottage and in October 2014 they set up Ballymultimber Cottages launching a brand new website.
The site now has two self catering cottages called Cissie’s and The Garden, with Cissie’s original house kept as a museum,
Last week Lee travelled from her home in Pennsylvania to make her first ever trip to Ireland and she finally got to see the dresser and the famous inscription made by her great grandfather.
“I have been wanting to come here for so long and hearing about it from my grandfather meant that it felt like coming home for me,” said Lee.
“One night I put Ballymultimber into the search engine and up came the cottage. It reminded me of a cottage my aunts had videoed when they came to Ireland in 1997 to visit the home of my grandfather’s cousin, Sarah Begley, who they all called Cissie.
“On the video Cissie is pointing out the dresser and saying how my great grandfather Robert John Martin made the piece in 1896 for his uncles and ultimately she inherited it. And inside he had signed the middle drawer.
“I e-mailed Gillian and told her how it all seemed amazing but the dresser looked like the same one my great grandfather had made.
“Immediately Gillian e-mailed me back and told me it was Cissie’s house. After finding that out I had to come here. As an archaeologist I see so much change but I’ve said to Gillian how wonderful it is that they have preserved Cissie’s cottage. Gillian told me - it’s a museum, and it is.”
The American professor said her family were truly grateful to Gillian and her dad for the love and care they gave Cissie.
“Gillian’s family took care of Cissie and took care of her wake and funeral,” she said. “We are so grateful for that.”
Gillian explained that Cissie had been a really close friend of her father, Alec McLaughlin, but had no living relatives in Ireland.
“Cissie lived in a cottage that had no electricity or running water. My dad even offered to install a flush toilet but Cissie didn’t want that. The cottage has been in our family since she died. It had been sitting empty and just had the odd ceili night in it. But the cottage was in a state of disrepair and the thatch was crumbling so we wanted to fix it up.
“But we wanted to keep that bit of history so we decided to do the self catering accommodation with the museum. We wanted to keep Cissie’s memory in the cottage, we didn’t want to put a bulldozer through it.
“And inside the cottage we’ve kept all Cissie’s possessions just to keep her memory alive.
“We didn’t even know Cissie had American relatives so it has been fantastic to find Lee and hear the story of her aunts coming over and meeting Cissie. She was so close to all of our hearts, and had a special place in my dad’s heart.
“She would be glad that we kept the house, that was her wish.”
The cottage opened on October 12 and this summer it is fully booked up.
Lee has just spent two weeks in the cottage.
“It’s my first trip to Ireland, nothing was going to stop me coming,” she said.
“I have had such a lovely welcome. I’ve been to Tamlaghtard Church and been able to look through the church records.”
The women also revealed an extra twist to Cissie’s story.
During hard times when Cissie was just a child, her mother was forced to give her up and she and her brother were sent to live with an uncle who raised them.
“When Cissie was close to passing she asked Gillian’s dad Alex to make sure she was buried with her mother,” said Lee. “They searched and found Cissie’s mother’s grave not far away at St. Aidan’s Church. It is lovely that she wanted to go back to her mom. And these guys made it happen.”
For more information on Cissie and the cottages please visit www.ballymul