Ireland is as cut off from America right now as if air travel never existed.

Now the only way here is via boat thanks to the Icelandic volcano and our entire sense of what time represents has to change.

Suddenly we are catapulted back to an era where planes no longer whisk us from one continent to another in under six hours.

We see now the sheer immensity of the ocean we travel to connect with loved ones.
This was how it appeared before the 1950s when commercial airliners made it possible to reach America in less than a day.

It gives us all an opportunity to reimagine exile from Ireland, as it was for our forefathers. They left famine cottages like the one pictured above, desperate to find a way to America. They never came back.

I know if a loved one died tonight in Ireland I could not attend the funeral, that if some great celebratory event, a marriage, a new child took place I could not make it. I am as rooted to my patch of ground here in the U.S. as any 19th century exile was.

The broad Atlantic back then was known as the 'bowl of tears' and we can for a brief few days imagine the sense of isolation and loss that the millions faced as they fled the Emerald Isle.

The journey itself was death defying, as horrible as the fact of leaving family and friends forever.There were no return trips back then just a one way ticket too "The Fresh Land ' as America was known.

In Famine times the poor, the hungry, the oppressed piled on board for the voyage from hell. The only consolation was that what they left behind was even worse.

But they suffered.

Here is just one description from the Medical Superintendent at Gross Isle, the Canadian island on the St. Lawrence River where the ships of our forefathers dropped anchor.

"The Virginius, from Liverpool on May 28, had 476 passengers on board but, by the time she reached Grosse Isle, "...106 were ill of fever, including nine of the crew, and the large number of 158 had died on the passage, including the first and second officers and seven of the crew, and the master and the steward dying, the few that were able to come on deck were ghastly yellow looking spectres, unshaven and hollow checked, and without exception, the worst looking passengers I have ever seen..." wrote Dr. Douglas, Medical Superintendent at Grosse Isle, in the 1847 Immigration Report.

I think of those poor souls as I read tonight about the volcano and the sheet of ash that covers the night skies between here and Erin.

I am glad of this once in a lifetime opportunity to experience, in a very small way even for a brief few days, what they faced when they came to America.

They were brave people surely.