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Jean Cannon gets birthday card from Queen 10 years early

Palace makes exception for Belfast-born widow

By Claire McNeilly

Published 28/09/2016

Jean Cannon with her card from the Queen
Jean Cannon with her card from the Queen

You normally have to be 100 years old to get a special birthday greeting from the Queen, but Her Majesty has made an exception for Northern Ireland woman Jean Cannon.

Belfast-born Jean turned 90 years old - the same age as the Queen - earlier this week, and has already received a congratulatory message from the monarch.

It was a surprise organised by Mrs Cannon's niece, Julie Cassidy, after US-based Jean, a native of Ottawa Street just off the Shankill, told Julie she would love "a piece of home" for her landmark birthday.

Julie wrote to Buckingham Palace outlining her aunt's circumstances and, to her shock, got a reply, along with an official missive for Mrs Cannon thanking her for her ongoing support for the royal family and wishing her a happy 90th birthday.

"It was special, a real surprise", widow Jean (nee Moore) told the Belfast Telegraph from her home in Chesapeake, Virginia.

"Julie knew how much this would mean to me. I think Julie might have said my health wasn't great, but I told her I'm far from dead yet."

Indeed, sprightly Jean is up and about again after being bedridden for a several weeks.

"I broke my right foot on the way home from church - I lost my balance and tripped over a stone," she said. "Funnily enough, my birthday on Monday marked the first day I could start moving around again."

Jean met the love of her life, and her future husband - Murry Cannon, an American soldier - in wartime Belfast when she was just 15 years old, but the path of true love did not run smooth for the smitten young couple.

"When I turned 16, I asked my dad if I could marry him, but he said no, I was too young," she recalled. "Then Murray was sent to fight in the Battle of the Bulge (the last major German offensive campaign of the Second World War). He was reported missing for a while, but made it back home in 1945.

"He sent me the money to fly over to America, and not long after that I boarded the big plane and we were married for 56 years."

The couple had three sons - Bob (now 67), Mike (61) and Alan (56) - and a daughter, Margaret, who died 28 years ago.

Murray passed away in 2002 and since then Jean has been living on her own. Her recent health issues wrecked any chances of making it back to Belfast for her 90th birthday and a reunion with her one remaining sibling Bobby (83).

Two other brothers, Sammy (Julie's father) and Joe, and sister Julia, have all passed away.

The disappointment at Jean not making it back prompted Portaferry-based dance teacher Julie (59) to contact Buckingham Palace in the faint hope that the Queen would respond.

"I got a lot of cards, but receiving something from Her Majesty was extra special" said Jean - who plans to be around for the royal telegram in 10 years' time.

"Everybody tells me I don't look 90 years old, and one of my nieces said I'd pass for 70," said Jean.

"I don't drink or smoke but, unfortunately, I'm not able to dance any more like I did when I was young. I loved dancing."

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