In celebration of National Family History Month, we look back on this heartwarming story of an Irish family reunion.
Overcome with emotion and gratitude as 63 members of the Malone clan, aged four months to 93-years-old descended on the village Rineen.
It was a cold winter day when I was approached by my daughter and niece with the idea of having a family vacation in Ireland.
Ireland, my most beloved place, last visited three years prior, treating my Mom to a visit to see her sisters. Ireland, the land of the beautiful, with its 40 shades of green and topography encaptivating photographers from around the world, complemented by the free spirit life of its people. This is a story about an extended Irish family who with tremendous efforts and sacrifices gathered, defining the words “family and love”.
A family vacation turned into a family reunion as the word spread that one of the Malone’s oldest generations still alive was coming home to visit. To give a little history, I am one of four daughters of an Irish-born mother, Eileen, who was one of eight children born and raised in the picturesque township of Rineen, County Clare, on a farm with the Atlantic at the front door surrounded by open fields.
This enchanting environment brings peacefulness and a feeling of freedom to anyone who would have experienced, as I did as a young girl visiting my grandmother with my family. The opportunities to spend time on the homestead farm (I will refer as the “home”), growing up exposed me to the simple pleasures in life that I cherish to this day.
My mother Eileen, the fourth eldest of eight children, was left without a father at the age six when John Malone died of a perforated appendix. Elizabeth, my grandmother was left with eight children to rare and a farm to manage.
It was my great-grandfather Thomas Malone also known as Kruger, who supported Elizabeth with nurturing the children and sustaining the daily operations of the farm. Kruger, at the time, was headmaster of the Rineen Country School. The school which today is still in operation educating many. The school will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019.
Kruger delegated chores on the farm to Eileen and her siblings often done before and after school. Not until they were older, did they realize that working together accomplished more than expected, and not only the chores but the closeness shared doing the chores grew respect for one another and an undescribed love that stretched many miles as the family settled in different areas of the world.
Eileen traveled to England as a late teenager to care for the wounded soldiers of WWII, where she met my father Alexander. It was the job opportunities that brought my mom and dad to America after they married. Having the opportunity, myself, along with my siblings to spend much time in Ireland growing up with the extended family, our children were also blessed as my husband and I traveled to Ireland introducing them to the beautiful country and culture as they grew.
Planning for this family reunion would be met with many challenges including the organization of the now grown Malone family across miles, the adaptability needed for some with mobility difficulties, and the necessary gear for the youngest, four months old. Eileen, my mother was one of the four siblings of the oldest Malone generation still alive, with the other three also being girls. Sister Mary-Kate, Theresa and Peggy, ages 93 to 85 respectfully, whom I will continue to refer to as the “four sisters.”
The efforts to be brought forward would be the exemplification of love and determination of this family to reunite, creating memories of a lifetime. Winter and spring had passed, and it was hard to believe my husband and I with family were now jetting across the pond to Ireland, eager to be together with loved ones.
Uniting, the exhilaration and expressive emotions were unmeasurable. Laughs and tears overtook the apprehension of the Malone “gang” as all continued to arrive until a total of 67 had landed, ages four months to 93 years old.
For those of you who have traveled to Ireland before, you know that there are no strangers. So, whether you were bunked in with family or staying in a B&B or a rental property, the Malone family was welcomed with open arms by the locals of the quaint towns of Rineen, Miltown, Malbay, and Lahinch.
The salty scent of the Atlantic with its white caps and the views of the Green Island and the Cliffs of Moher along with the softly blown grasses of the fields facilitated a backdrop of playfulness and sweetness as the family reminisced of years passed.
How do I begin to tell you the meaning of a family gathering? Yes, we all knew each other for we had met at different times throughout the years. But this reunion was magical particularly so for the four sisters for it was the first time we were all together.
The first evening spent together was nothing less than charming. Beginning with humor, as the cattle grazing in the fields hurtled to the stone walls as our son tore opened the evening playing the bagpipes. A sound, possibly unrecognizable to them, it was music to our ears, rousing the enthusiasm of everyone. The Irish culture was on the rise. A night with the clatter of feet, as many stepped out with step dancing regardless of their proficiency, supported by the traditional music, entertained by the Malone’s of Rineen, not to mention the singing and storytelling.
This was an evening that our distant relative Willie Clancy would be so proud of, upholding the reputation of Clare, “The County of great music.” With the night ending in the wee hours of the morning, it was not to be mentioned the difficulty it would be to arise for Mass. With the eldest of the generations being of the “order” many attended morning mass with much effort. Sister Mary Kate, with great determination, traveled up the aisle with her walker, recovering from a fractured pelvis, sitting in the very first pew, not to miss a word of the liturgy with family members following behind.
It was during the Mass I gazed over at my mother and thought to myself “she couldn’t possibly be sleeping, but maybe again she could be” for my head was nodding trying to stay awake. I am still wondering what the priest had wondered seeing heads bobbing up and down … thank goodness, there was no snoring.
For the next 12 days everyone bobbled in their different activities of interest whether it was running surfing, football, golfing, fishing, sightseeing, or maybe even stopping into the pub for a pint … or two. Whatever it may have been it was time spent with family enjoying each other’s company.
As the holiday was coming to a close, there would be one more unforgettable Gala. A gathering not to take back seat to any organized evening the locals had seen in years. Arriving at the Home, all were greeted by the family canines and pet goats.
The farm animals always being a part of daily living did not want to miss anything of this evening. One of the dogs, referred to as "mad dog," always met you with something in his mouth requesting to play fetch. This night he chose a hurling stick. Disco music was heard passing the erected marque in the field before entering the Home where the air was filled with appetizing aromas of what looked to be a banquet for an army. This was to be the beginning of a night not to be replaced or forgotten. The walls and floors inside the Home began to vibrate with the “Rineen” musicians bestowing the relations with the avenues to step up doing sets in the open kitchen, bringing back memories to me.
One could say the “craic” was at 100% with everyone sharing their talents with songs and stories and “Sean Nos” dancing including the broom dance, executed by one of Ireland's best, my cousin. Also, a song by my mom, with her sister Peggy joining in. Neighbors arrived bringing their fiddles and banjos and the art of the spoons to join in creating the traditional sounds one could listen to forever.
Theresa, one of the four sisters, wheelchair-bound for the last year, healing from a femur fracture, who had traveled from England to see her sisters, would not be denied partaking in the pleasures of the evening. Her wheelchair acting as her dance shoes as she was swung around by family bringing a sense of joy to all. There was nothing better to see my granddaughter of four months, this being her first introduction to the Irish culture, smiling as she was bounced on her mother’s knee.
As I sat back in the distant of all the excitement, I became overwhelmed with emotion. Witnessing the smiles on the four sister’s face, I realized that yes, this would be a memory of a lifetime. However, it wasn’t until then, I fully understood the expression on my mother’s face was not only from her own happiness but from the happiness she was able to provide me, my siblings, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, by giving us a lifelong gift. The gift of love, as her sisters gave to their families and her other siblings who had passed gave to their families. Love, by enabling me and our families to have the experiences over the years spending time with one another appreciating the closeness a family can have as she did with her family.
The words “Thank you” underestimate the gratefulness I have for the present generation of the Malone’s in Rineen, opening their hearts and home having the “home” be a gathering place for the extended family, strengthening the family bond. This to assure the tradition would be continued as their dad, my Uncle Paddy did as well as our Grandmother Elizabeth did in prior years. The family bond not only strengthens one’s inner self but supports one’s self-reliance, most times without any realization.
The gathering, not only remarkable but fulfilling, defining not only a family’s love but the importance of engagement with family. Saying goodbye was heartbreaking bringing tears as everyone spent last minutes together embracing and making plans for when we may meet again. At the same time, it brought joyfulness to my heart and warmth to my soul for I knew the bond between the Malone’s would go on for years … maybe eternity … God bless.
Has your family ever had an Irish reunion? Let us know about it in the comments section, below.
*Originally published in May 2018.
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