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From 8 weeks old to 90, Irish family celebrates 100-year-old christening tradition

Katie McReynolds holds her 8-week-old daughter Briley as her husbJas(middle) mother PatriciFluhler gather before Briley's baptism Sunday. Briley is wearing

Katie McReynolds holds her 8-week-old daughter, Briley, as her husband, Jason (middle) and mother, Patricia Fluhler, gather before Briley's baptism Sunday. Briley is wearing a 100-year-old family christening gown. | Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 12, 2013 6:29AM

Annabella “Bella” Moore, 90, touched the cheeks of her granddaughter and her 8-week-old great-granddaughter, Briley, eliciting soft smiles from both as they prepared to pose for a photo before the little one was baptized Sunday.

Annabella Moore was the first generation and Briley was the latest in a line of 27 family members — and counting — to wear a century-old christening gown purchased in Ireland back in 1913. Made of 100 percent cotton, the gown has gathers at the neck and Irish eyelet for the skirt. Its sturdy fabric seems as strong as the family bond: 24 of the 27 baptized in the gown attended Sunday’s service.

“It’s great, it’s become a long-standing family tradition,” Annabella Moore, formerly of Park Ridge, said as she awaited the start of the service at St. John United Church of Christ in Palatine.

Born in Ballybofey, County Donegal, Ireland, Annabella was the fourth of the McMonagle siblings to wear the gown — purchased by her mother. Annabella’s sister Mary, born Oct. 15, 1913, was the first to wear it. She lives in Toronto and is preparing for her 100th birthday this year.

The gown made the voyage to Canada with family members who emigrated in 1929, said Annabella’s daughter Patricia Fluhler. When Annabella and her husband, Gilbert Moore, of Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, moved from Canada to Chicago, they brought the gown with them.

Asked how the dress remained so white and crisp over all these years, Annabella said: “I just put it in the washing machine; I wrapped it in tissue paper and put it in a bag.”

Indeed, the gown was pulled from a decades-old bag from Eaton’s Department Store — the defunct Canada-based store — that she tucks in a cedar chest for safekeeping.

Katie and Jason McReynolds, Briley’s parents, were busy with arrangements and welcoming family for the celebration of their first child, but during a brief conversation, Katie made it very clear that there were no second thoughts about it: Her daughter — like her, and her mother and grandmother before her — would wear the christening gown.

Not that there was some kind of mandate, Annabella Moore said. Her mother never offered any kind of instructions about passing the gown down. And through the generations, permission is asked of all family members involved so as not to offend someone else’s tradition, family said.

“I think she’d be surprised” but happy that it’s still in circulation after all these years and miles, Annabella Moore said of her mother. Added Moore’s daughter Patricia: “She’d be smiling, thinking about how it’s come this far.”

While most of the family has settled in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the setting of the baptism had Annabella Moore thinking about home.

The simple, white church, with its neighboring cemetery and forest preserve, serves as an unspoiled stretch of suburbia, a bit like the Irish countryside. Add the rising fog and lilting mist and, Annabella Moore said: “It’s a rainy day, just like Ireland.”

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