Mary Pat Kelly's return to Ireland
A trip to discover the homeland of one's ancestors
The kings of Ireland were not inaugurated in Christian churches as were other European monarchs. The chieftains stood on the high hills that enclosed the tombs of their tribal ancestors during the ceremonial rites that made them king. This image, given to us by Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish Antiquities, National Museum of Ireland, resonated with our group. We were Irish American, in Ireland to explore the land of our ancestors, hoping to find the place that belonged in a special way to each of us.
We spent an amazing two days with Eamonn, known as Ned, and his wife, archaeologist Erin Gibbons and found an insight into the layered richness of a heritage that belonged to us in a more profound sense than we had ever imagined.
We were touring sites in Galway important to my historical novel Galway Bay, which was set in the years 1839 until 1893. The group contained a number of friends from childhood along with readers of the book I had never met but responded to the news of this first Galway Bay tour. As each one signed up I urged them to gather as much information about their family history so they might be able to do what I had done after many years of research – find the place in Ireland where their people were from and stand on that piece of ground. Two of the group, Mary Lou Queeney and Rosemary Durkin Snyder, though both from Chicago, did not know each other. Neither had much information about their Irish connections but each had heard that a cousin was tracing their family roots and would inquire. A week before we left, two excited e-mails came. “I know the town,” said Mary Lou. “I found the place,” wrote Rosemary. “Bohola, County Mayo,” they each reported. What are the odds?
During the trip Mary Lou would attend Mass in the church where her great-grandparents were married and still living in the family home. They would show her the marriage certificate and she would discover that one of the witnesses, a cousin of hers, was also a cousin of Rosemary’s. Both families came from adjoining townlands, and Rosemary and Mary Lou were related.
But now, as we listened to Ned’s speech, the real significance of finding one’s place emerged. The kings seemed to gather their strength from a physical connection to the land, literally standing on the shoulders of those who went before. Ned told us that most family names in Ireland could be traced to particular locations where families had lived, possibly since the Stone Age. His own Kellys had been in the Dublin mountains since ancient times. He told us of a remarkable incident in County Clare where the DNA taken from ancient remains found in a cave matched exactly the DNA of two children currently enrolled in a local school. Both had names long associated with County Clare. We Irish Americans looked at each other and smiled. Suddenly being away 150 years or less seemed no time at all. If our ancestors had been here since the Stone Age, we belonged to the place in a more profound way than we had ever understood. When writing about the Great Starvation in the novel Galway Bay, the sense of loss and cataclysmic tragedy sometimes overwhelmed me. The need to bear witness was what kept me going. But now I felt that the ancestors themselves were calling us home as if our very presence could heal the immense rift between then and now, here and there. Here were people on the tour being guided by distant cousins.
- Gay wedding cakes latest target of anti-gay...
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- A Magdalene Laundry US adoptee who holds...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
- Nelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning.
- Families as well as Catholic Church and governm
- Baby dies in horror birth at Belfast hospital...
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Sarah Palin is saving Christmas