A few days before St. Patrick's Day in 2003, I purchased a beautiful six-piece dessert set of fine bone china from a local shop. As the shop owner carefully packed it up, I read the bottom of one of the tea cups: "Royal Tara-fine bone china-made in Ireland."
I bought the set because it was gorgeous. But knowing it came from Ireland made it even more special to me. At the time, I'd never been to Ireland and my father, Edwin, who died in 2001, had never been to Ireland either. But he was very proud of his Irish heritage and it always made me laugh how he began to speak with a brogue after a few drinks. I miss my father every day, but especially so on St. Patrick's Day.
It was a special day in our home in Guttenberg, Hudson County, while growing up. In the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day, my sister and I could always count on a shopping trip with him so we could purchase a new green outfit. He never missed an opportunity to share Irish history with us or celebrate our Irish heritage.
We often went to the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City and waited for the marchers representing County Leitrim to approach. He pointed to the banner and reminded us that Leitrim was the county where his mother's ancestors were from. He encouraged me to visit Ireland one day and go to the area where his mother's family lived. I did for the first time in 2013.
Soon, I will be going to Ireland again — permanently. I will be packing up my Royal Tara tea set and my other possessions and moving to a home I purchased last year in Aughavas, a small village in County Leitrim. Leitrim, which is located in the northwest part of the country, has dramatic hills, mountainous landscapes and several lakes and rivers. It's one of the most rural counties in Ireland, with a population of about 32,000.
I originally planned to move there sometime in the future, but after taking the year to carefully consider it, I've decided that now is the right time for me to do it. The most difficult part is knowing I'll be so far away from my daughter, Kelly, 24, and so many friends.
But I am 53, and I don't want to live a life of regrets thinking years from now, "Why didn't I do it?" After raising my daughter and caring for a sick husband for many years, I've concluded this is my time to do what I want to do. I've always enjoyed a good adventure and I look forward to this one.
A lot has happened in the past year since my article about my first trip to Ireland and finding my roots. It has been shared thousands of times online, in social media and in different papers in the U.S. and in Ireland. That led to other articles, and it has set me on an unexpected path in which I hope to fulfill my dream and publish a book I have been working onsince my husband's death three years ago.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about making this big move. I'm leaving my job at The Asbury Park Press where I have worked for the past 17 years. I'm leaving my health insurance behind. I'll have to find another hair dresser after going to the same woman for several years, and I'll have to find a new dentist as well. Lots of things will change for me. I wonder how I will be able to live without Manhattan — a place I've loved my entire life. But like many of my ancestors who emigrated to America so many years ago, I'm excited and filled with hope for my future.
In many ways, I've been searching for family my entire life. It seems it's been fleeting at every turn. For reasons I'll never quite understand, my maternal grandmother gave my mother and her sister away back in the 1930s. I realize times were difficult back then, but even as my mother grew older, it seemed she was always chasing her mother and her family, always hoping to be included. And she never was. Her mother raised her brothers together and they remained close. With the exception of a meeting here and there as an adult, my mother just wasn't a part of their family. It was so hurtful for her and painful for me to see her go through it.
My cousins, the children of my mother's brothers, all seem to have good relationships. But, like my mother, because they never knew me while growing up, there doesn't seem to be a place for me in their family. I had a pleasant phone conversation once with a cousin after finding her living in a neighboring state, but the invitation to meet the family and my other cousins never came.
My father was placed in an orphanage in New York in 1933 after both of his parents died a year apart. He was never adopted.
Discovering I have cousins on my father's side in Ireland who have embraced me was a powerful experience and a big part of my decision to move there. It's the friendship and love I feel from them, along with the connection to my father, that is pulling me there to live.
During my last visit, while showing my cousin Tommy Creegan, owner of Creegan's Pub in Cloone, pictures of my father, he took one from me and hung it in his pub alongside his other family members. That touched me deeply. My proud Irish-American father would be beaming with pride knowing his picture is hanging in a pub in Ireland.
Tommy's sister, my cousin Dolores, is a corker. She is quick-witted and makes me laugh. She's also very good natured, loving and kind. The first time I met her three years ago, I felt an instant connection. I've enjoyed our phone conversations this past year. She always speaks to me in her best New York accent, "Oh, Yankee Katie is calling from Amerika," and I reply in my best Irish brogue, "Top of the morning to you, lass."
From the first time I stood on the land where my new home will be, I experienced a feeling of peace and fulfillment that I haven't felt since prior to my husband's illness 10 years ago and the instability that followed.
The view from my front door is breathtaking, and it overlooks the land where my ancestors lived and worked. Although my ancestors are gone and I never met them, being there makes me feel more connected to them. Most of my ancestors who emigrated to America came over alone. I'm lucky to have cousins there to help ease my transition.
But soon, the goodbyes will come, and it won't be easy. Most difficult will be saying goodbye to my daughter. I'll still worry about her and will miss her tremendously, but I know she will visit when she can. I have been close to my two best friends since grammar school, and the thought of living in another country and away from them could just about send me into a panic and make me change my mind. I will miss them so much, yet I trust our friendship will endure.
I've waited until after Saint Patrick's Day to make the move. I wanted to march in the parade in New York City just one more time. This year in honor of my father I'll proudly march with my people from County Leitrim. I know when we turn and head down Fifth Avenue, there will be tears in my eyes thinking about the many times I watched the parade with him from the sidelines as a young girl.
I've always been a pragmatic person and never gave much thought to fate, but lately I've been thinking a lot about destiny, and as crazy as it sounds, I believe I'm fulfilling mine by moving to Ireland. My father was a sentimental man who easily cried at "Lassie" movies, and when he did, I would smile and say, "Dad, you know how this movie ends — you've seen it before, yet you still cry." As he fought back tears, he would smile and say, "You have to be brave, Kathleen." It was our inside joke and together we would laugh.
I wonder what he would make of it all, and I would give anything to be able to share this with him. Mostly, I would want to tell him that I've found the place he always told me about. The place his ancestors told him about as a child. That I've been to the old homestead and yes, the grass is the most beautiful shade of green. And, I'd want to tell him about all of the wonderful people I've met along the way. And, I'd want to thank him for raising me to not be afraid and to always follow my heart.
That tea set I will soon be packing up? I've imagined the many women who have sat around talking together while sipping their tea, discussing issues large and small. The set is so delicate and fragile, yet it somehow survived the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Someone brought it to America from Ireland and then it ended up in a shop for sale. When I purchased it 12 years ago, it never occurred to me that it would end up back in Ireland. But then again, at the time I never would have imagined I'd be moving to Ireland either.
If that tea set could talk, it would sure have a story to tell.
Wishing you a very happy and blessed Saint Patrick's Day and if you ever come to Ireland, please visit the beautiful and lovely County Leitrim. And if you do, please be sure to stop in Creegan's Pub for a Guinness and tell Cousin Tommy to put it on Yankee Katie's tab.
*This article first appeared in the Asbury Park Press, where Kathy has worked for 17 years.