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Old Lyme couple travels to Ireland to find keepsake from 26 years earlier

Old Lyme — When Laurie McGrath traveled to Ireland 26 years ago, she left behind a little something from back home.

Laurie, who at the time was 29, had received a golden heart pendant with two interlocking halves from her then-boyfriend, Bill McGrath, before she embarked on the trip with two friends.

The couple were inseparable, and Bill gave it to her with the idea that she could bury half of the heart in Ireland while they were apart and then someday they would travel together to bring it back, he said.

During a recent interview at their home here, Bill recalled that at the time he thought: "Let me give her something we could still look forward to when we go back." 

Twenty-six years later, the Old Lyme couple, now married, flew last week from Bradley International Airport to Dublin to mark their 25th wedding anniversary by finding the pendant.

With the help of old photos, a GPS system, and research from librarians, the McGraths tracked down the spot in Castletownroche in County Cork, Ireland, where Laurie had buried in 1990 the half of the heart pendant, inscribed with the words "best friends," along with a love note.

During that 1990 trip, Laurie had searched for the best spot to bury the pendant from Bill, who comes from an Irish family. Gardening work prevented her from burying it by Blarney Castle, and too much erosion made her decide against stashing it by the Cliffs of Moher, she said.

Running out of time as the friends were about to leave Ireland for the remainder of their trip in Wales and London, they stumbled across a beautiful old church and quiet cemetery in Castletownroche, which she thought would be a safe spot for the pendant, Laurie recalled.

There, Laurie said she dug a hole with a spoon and buried the pendant, enclosed within a box and a plastic bag, about 3 or 4 inches below the ground. She then covered the spot with a rock. 

The couple married about a year after Laurie returned from the trip. They lived for five years in Norwich before moving to Old Lyme.

With their children grown up and the couple now grandparents, they decided that their 25th wedding anniversary was the right time to make the trip to Ireland.

Last Thursday, the couple traveled to the church and cemetery in Castletownroche. After finding the Irish gravestone near where Laurie had buried the pendant, they began digging a few inches below the ground and found the plastic bag with the pendant.

The cardboard box and the love note had disintegrated, but the pendant, tucked away in a tiny foam pillow, was intact.

"Here it is," Bill said in a video of the moment he discovered the pendant. "Twenty-six years. That's true love."

"There it was as shiny as could be," Laurie said in the interview. "We just cried and said, 'I can't believe this. This is amazing.'"

Laurie believes she wrote in the 1990 love note about how much she missed Bill.

The couple told their story to people they met in Ireland, and they were written about in the Muskerry News in Ireland. Friends and co-workers back home also waited to hear if they had found the half of the heart, they said.

Laurie's friends who took the trip with her 26 years ago, Kathy Hallahan and Tasha Wynne, were excited that they found the pendant all this time later, she said.

Laurie said she and Bill are soulmates and best friends.

"We love each other like crazy, so it's just nice that we found it," Laurie said.

Today, Bill works at Whelen Engineering in Chester, while Laurie works at Christiansen Hardware on Halls Road in Old Lyme.

They said they enjoy talking walks with their dog, Sandy, on the dock by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection marine headquarters in Old Lyme and watching football games together.

"We just do stuff for each other, and we love each other," Bill said.

"— and we're never apart," Laurie said.

"We're just looking forward to growing old together," Laurie added.

k.drelich@theday.com

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