New Yorker Patrick McCrosson, center, pictured with his cousin Reba McDaid Longhorn and her husband Victor Longhorn, who live in Woburn Sands in England.
By Peter McDermott
Family members will gather in County Tyrone from around the globe on this Saturday to honor the Evish Bard of Strabane.
He won’t be there himself, other than in spirit. For John McCrossan died in 1895.
Yet, despite his being well-known locally and a published poet of note, his grave went without a headstone for many decades.
That’s been rectified in a very 21st century way – via a crowd-funding campaign.
Some of McCrossan’s descendants will be visiting Northern Ireland for the first time for the unveiling of the new headstone and a Mass celebrated by the Rev. Declan Boland of Immaculate Conception Church at 3:30 p.m.
Said great-great-grandson Patrick McCrosson, a native of Yonkers, N.Y., “In the 1980s one of Poet John’s grandchildren gave my cousin Rebecca [known as Reba] McDaid Longhorn the obituary of Poet John printed by the Derry Journal in 1895. Reba spent many years researching his life while discovering many of his poems. She wrote the most extensive biography of Poet John to date printed in the Strabane Concordia in 1997.
“Copies of that story were given to me in 2005 upon my first trip to Strabane and since then our family has built a strong bridge with frequent visits to Strabane and meetings together around the world,” added McCrosson, who is business development manager for Invest Northern Ireland based in New York.
So what about the variation in the spelling of the name? McCrosson said that the second “o” can be traced to the transcription at Ellis Island in 1904, though it seems his version is also widely used back in Tyrone.
His great-grandfather, who was 15 at the time of his poet father’s death and 24 when he entered the port of New York, is held responsible for knowledge of the link to Strabane being lost, having fallen into a life of alcoholism. “He disappeared for a long time and was homeless for 20 years before his death in the 1950s,” Patrick McCrosson said. In contrast, his grandfather, lived a healthy life into the 1980s.
McCrosson did some general reconnecting with his heritage by networking in Irish émigré communities in New York and Boston, where he was based for a long time. But again it was 21st century technology – via Ancestry.com and suchlike – that allowed his cousin Reba and others to bring the family’s different strands together.
“While this family gathering is exciting, it is also incredible that Poet John wrote a poem titled, ‘The Chapel Bell’ about the opening of the ‘new’ church in Strabane – which is indeed the Immaculate Conception Church,” he said. “This poem will be read inside the church followed by the unveiling of the headstone at the Strabane Cemetery.”
The visitors, McCrosson added, will be traveling from Australia, England, Dublin, Scotland and the U.S. to participate for what he called “this momentous occasion.”