Many of us in the Irish diaspora around the world want to know more about our Irish roots. While planning a recent business trip to Ireland, I got just that chance – and more. A few colleagues in Ireland had inquired about my family’s Irish origins. My mother had done research years ago, but had not come up with much. My own attempts were sporadic due to work and family obligations, so, unfortunately, my ancestral knowledge was limited.
People in Ireland were eager to help and introduced me to a professional genealogist. He took a look at my personal online searches and dove into the research with the personal details I provided. Another connection I made would help provide biological links to Ireland. I signed up for 23andme.com, a website that provides DNA testing for ancestry purposes. Colleagues also introduced me to IrishCentral and the @Ireland Twitter account, and soon I was on board to curate the account for the week I was in Ireland.
The research on ancestry.com progressed and soon we had identified several potential relatives living in Ireland. I began reaching out to these people, eager to hear what they had to say. Many were happy to hear from me, and some were even interested in getting their own DNA tested through 23andme.com. By the time I was ready to go to Ireland, I had made plans to meet nine relatives and their families.
Over five days, I drove from Dublin down the coast to Waterford, up to Tipperary, and over to Kerry, through Galway and Sligo before returning to Dublin. The benefit of driving all over the country was getting to see all the different landscapes in Ireland, including mountains, oceans, and bogs. Ancient megaliths, portal tombs, and ringforts rise from rolling green fields. I couldn’t get too caught up in the landscape because driving in Ireland felt like a full contact sport. Narrow roads with hairpin turns combined with driving on the left side of the road made me wonder if I should increase my car insurance, my life insurance, or both.
Driving aside, meeting my Irish relatives and their families was an experience I never thought I would have. They were welcoming and willing to share stories they had heard of my great grandparents, aunts, and uncles leaving Ireland for the United States. The sacrifices that people made were awe-inspiring – not just the emigrants who never returned to see their families again. The people who remained in Ireland also made tremendous sacrifices. These were their children, the young, the strong, and the generation that was coming of age. It was an emotional, financial, and societal cost that continues to resonate today. I was told the story of people who had had to travel from town to town, earning money as they went to save enough for passage to the U.S. I heard the story of 15- and 17-year old sisters sent over to the US alone. As the parent of teenagers myself, I can empathize with that difficult decision: the desire to give them a better life but to possibly never see them again.
Upon my return home, I was inspired to learn more about the history of the Irish in Pennsylvania. I have spoken about the trip with others who wish to research their own ancestry. Finding my family in Ireland, seeing where my ancestors came from, and the challenges they faced were deeply moving experiences. I look forward to returning with my own family and showing them what a special place Ireland is and to help them understand quite how difficult it must have been to leave.
* Robert Young is married with three children and lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, an hour north of Philadelphia, PA. He is the Managing Director of an investment firm in the United States. His Twitter handle is @ryoung6500.