While recently in Dingle for a family gathering my Kennedy cousins from Baile Na Boc, a tiny village outside the town, told me a relative of mine had written a book about his life.
It is one of the marvelous aspects of The Gathering that family occasions such as our Kerry gathering greatly adds to the store of information on the family heritage.
In this case there is a direct reference in the book to my grandmother who I hardly knew, which was a wonderful bonus for me, especially as it happened on a magical day in Kerry long ago.
My relative’s name was Tomas O Cinneide and the book, entitled “The Wild Rover” published by Mercier Press covers an amazing life story from life in the little townland in West Kerry to his travels all over the world.
He was a lieutenant in the Irish army, a teacher, fisherman, a postman, and hard drinker who left Ireland at the age of 38 for a life of adventure in California.
He worked hard, was clearly a character and fell on some hard times. There are wonderful descriptions of his take on Haight Ashbury in San Francisco when the hippy movement started in the 1960s, a sad chapter on his decline into drinking and a restorative chapter at the end where he returns home, using the beautiful analogy of the salmon who always go back to die at the place they were spawned.
After his return he became a local character in West Kerry sought out by many students for his wonderful command of Irish.
A few paragraphs at the beginning of the book however, really caught my eye.
He is describing a day in May 1927 when he was visiting his aunt, my grandmother in the nearby village of Kilcooley. She and her husband Michael were raising 14 children on a small farm there.
That long ago day became very memorable to Tomas, one for a very personal reason, his first bike, the second for an earth-shattering world event that he witnessed.
He writes: “One day when I was about 13 or 14 I went off walking to the parish of Keel to visit my aunt, a sister of my father’s.
“She was married there to an O’Dowd man. A son of hers was studying for the priesthood in Louvain in Belgium at the time.”(That would be my uncle Father Patrick O’Dowd who spent his entire priestly ministry around Rapid City, South Dakota.)
“When I was getting ready to come home she called me aside and said to me “Tomas there is an old bicycle belonging to Padraig inside here and I don't think anyone will make use of it...take it away home with you. My heart leaped with joy.” But on his way home something extraordinary happened.
“I threw the bicycle up on my shoulder because it had only one wheel. Before I reached home I heard a noise to my right and heard a queer sound up in the sky that I had never heard from anything.
"Out in the distance I saw a bird. I stopped in wonder and gazed and gazed.”
It was no bird it was Charles Lindbergh on his epic flight on the Spirit of St Louis to Paris. Tomas said he passed so close overhead he could see him clearly waving.
It was May 20, 1927 the day my relative got his first bike from my grandmother -- and the day Charles Lindbergh flew almost directly over his head in perhaps the most historic flight ever.
What a family memory brought to life!