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Anne Galway doesn’t remember her great-grandmother. She was only three when she died.
But she feels a special connection to Ellen Dwyer Carroll.
“Over my life, she was the topic of conversation in my house many times,” Galway said. “I’ve heard so many stories about her, I feel I know her.”
Many people in this province did, especially in the last few decades of her life.
Carroll was born on Oct. 20, 1827 in St. John’s, and died in North River, Conception Bay, on Dec. 6, 1942 at the age of 115. At the time, she was believed to be the oldest woman in the British Empire.
“There are people in the province who still remember her,” said Galway, noting the storied and full life Carroll had.
Since she was a child, Galway visited Carroll’s gravesite at All Hallows Cemetery in North River many times, as Carroll’s children and grandchildren took care of the plot. However, as family members aged, the headstone and plot fell into disrepair. Last summer, Galway decided it was time her great-grandmother got a proper headstone and tribute.
“I thought about it for a long time, but I was always so busy,” she said. “But with COVID-19, with most of us home, it gave me some time to think about the situation. I thought it would be nice to commemorate her.”
With the new headstone in place, having arrived from New Brunswick this week, a memorial will be held at Carroll’s gravesite at 3 p.m. on Sunday, when her gravesite will be blessed by Father Al Credo.
Galway said it was worth taking on the project, because her great-grandmother deserved it.
“I’m one of the last living relatives who could do it,” said Galway, adding that Carroll lived with her family for a time when she was a toddler. “Granny Carroll, as we called her, certainly lived a very interesting life.”
Carroll’s husband was Thomas Carroll of Spaniard’s Bay. The two married in May 1848. They raised 12 children — seven sons and five daughters.
After her husband’s death, Carroll conveyed her land in Spaniard’s Bay to her daughter and son-in-law, Ellen and John Brazil.
She lived in Butte, Montana, for 12 years, providing help to her daughter, Bridget. According to the brochure created for the memorial, Carroll travelled often, visiting family in Boston, Montreal and throughout Newfoundland.
“She was very independent,” Galway said. “Travelling alone as a woman back then was a big deal.”
She was involved in the political culture of her day, often greeting local dignitaries such as Governor and Lady Walwyn, former Newfoundland premier Joseph R. Smallwood, who was then broadcaster of "The Barrelman" radio program, and receiving messages from Arctic explorer Capt. Bob Bartlett from New York. She travelled to Holyrood in 1939 to welcome King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Newfoundland and was granted the papal blessing by Pope Pius XII, delivered by Rev. Monsignor Murphy of Brigus on her 113th birthday.
“At the time, from 100 to 115, her birthday was celebrated throughout Newfoundland on radio and in newspapers,” Galway said.
“Because of her longevity, people were interested in following her.”
Galway hopes the original headstone on Carroll’s grave will be accepted by a historical society or museum.
Anne’s son, Michael Galway, who arrived from British Columbia, is glad he will be part of the memorial.
“She was always in the family photo albums, so Mom would tell stories about Granny, who she met, about the papal blessing, going to greet the king and queen. It all seemed pretty remarkable to me,” he said, noting he talks to his son about her as well.
“I feel very lucky and very blessed to be here to help honour her.”
Rosie Mullaley is a reporter in St. John’s.