Kathleen Dooner now has the precious pocket watch back in her family after 16-year-old Nathan Walsh found it while walking across a green area in Navan, Co Meath.
Nathan accidentally kicked the timepiece as he was coming home in recent weeks. Realising it might be valuable to someone, he brought it home to his parents.
A search then ensued to find the owner of the watch, which bore the inscription: “50 years of service by Dean Cogan INF, presented to Bro. Patrick Rafferty”.
Nathan’s father Dessie recognised that INF stood for the Irish National Foresters but the local branch no longer exists in the town.
However, the town’s National Foresters Band still meet regularly and, after contacting them, they willingly put the picture on their Facebook page which garnered huge reaction last month.
When Mrs Dooner, who now lives in Slane, saw the watch, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
She said: “Patrick Rafferty was my mother’s uncle. We lived with him growing up in Emmet Terrace in Navan.
“He and his wife brought up my own mother as my grandmother died when my mother was 16 so Patrick took her and her three brothers in.
“Mam eventually moved to St Brigid’s Villas with her own family but we moved back in with Patrick to live when his wife died and we looked after him until he passed away in 1977.
“Members of the Irish Foresters were called brothers back then and to get the gold watch was a huge deal. In the 70s and before, very few people had a gold anything unless they were very wealthy.
“Da Rafferty [Patrick], as we called him, received the watch in the early 70s.
“It was in a little black box in a china cabinet in our family home for as long as I can remember and was to be passed on from my mother to my brother.”
She said there was a break-in at the house in 1997. “After that the watch could never be found so we assumed it had been taken and reported it to gardaí,” Ms Dooner said.
She spoke of her delight when she saw the watch after all those years. “Oh my heart when I saw it. I could not believe it. I thought I was seeing a vision.
“I was so emotional about it as it’s very sentimental. My grandfather died when I was very young so Da Rafferty [Patrick] to me was my grandfather. I remember getting the watch was a huge deal for him. It probably doesn’t have a lot of monetary value but for us as a family, it’s priceless.
“My brother Jim now has it in Navan and he shows his own daughters the watch and he recalls the story behind it.
“My mam’s wedding rings were also stolen in that break-in so to get the watch back is unbelievable.
“From time to time, I often wondered about it and now here it is. Imagine, a watch found on grass after nearly 20 years and not a bit of rust and still keeping perfect time,” she concluded.