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  • Jenny

Tracing Our Irish Roots

March 2001

I love all my adventures. But hands down, one of the best journeys ever of my entire life (to date) was my trip to Ireland with my sister. I could write about this trip for pages because it wasn’t just any old trip; it was engrossed with deep meaning, connection and soul awakening.

The decision to go to Ireland was inspired by my sister and our desire to uncover a family mystery. Before our grandmother passed, she alluded to a deep, dark secret of hers, and we were led to believe the key to unraveling it was in a small church near the home where our great-grandmother, her mother, lived back in Ireland. We were completely fascinated by the idea of discovering family history there, so we set off on an adventure to explore our roots in County Mayo.

What really made Ireland special for us was that we still had family over there that we had never met. Our ancestors came from an extremely large family; some came to America, some stayed in Ireland; but most who were still alive stayed in touch. So we connected with our grandmother’s cousin, who happened to be a nun. What a wonderful woman, opening up a room at the convent for us to stay (that is an interesting story in itself!), and taking time off to be our personal tour guide throughout what is still to me the most beautiful country there ever was. A country that I instantly felt a strong connection to; I had been there before, and there was no doubt the Irish/Celtic culture ran deep in my blood, and in my soul lines. I had expected this kind of connection when I had ventured to Germany years earlier; but I was not surprised that Ireland called to me so profoundly, and continues to call me back.

Our trip started out with meeting other wonderful members of our family, and “enjoying” a traditional Irish breakfast. (Note to us and others: pudding is NOT a yummy dessert there.) Her brother was a priest and head of his church, so we also visited with him and toured his church grounds, which were beautiful. The irony at this point was that both of us at this time had denounced our Catholic faith, and weren’t very spiritual at all, my sister less so, so we relied upon our well-bred good manners to be courteous and feign interest in all of these religious tours. And the fact that either of us with our potty mouths and well, carefree lives shall we say, were staying in a convent, was something that our family and friends back home were definitely having a giggle about. But I will say, it really was a lovely place, and all of the nuns were kind and gracious. We honestly wouldn’t get better service at any hotel in any part of the world.

After meeting up with family, our cousin then took us on a road trip all around the region. We visited the Cliffs of Moher, our Lady of Knock (yes, another church) and went into town to the sweetest little village of shops. She also took us on a tour of our ancestral graveyards, where she lovingly explained the history of all of our roots. It really amazed me at how connected our elders really are to their elders, and how much our generation has lost contact or even desire with that level of connection and wisdom. We also learned about our royal heritage (which, of course, somewhere down the line, someone in our family ancestry had pissed someone important off and had our particular line disowned).

We later were taken to our great-grandmother’s childhood home, which our cousins still owned and maintained. We sat by the fireplace while she told us even more stories about our family, how she grew up, what she knew, the history of the house. My sister and I were completely mesmerized by this whole experience. Then we got to go to sleep in the rooms our great-grandmother and her siblings slept in, and it was really cool! But admittedly, also a bit scary, as both of us felt the presence of a few spirits here and there roaming about. No doubt they were past relatives checking in on us!

The next morning, we were given the chance to go off on our own to explore our ancestors’ childhood town…and track down that church. The super-sleuths were on a mission! We found it, and it was the sweetest little church, with these beautiful glass-stained windows. Being that our grandmother was still very sick back home, we lit a candle and said a prayer, and then collected some holy water to bring home to her, hoping in some way it would heal her. We then put on our detective “hats” and went exploring around the church and the area to see if we could uncover some kind of mystery.

It led us to a barren creek, and what seemed to be a dead end. We had thought for sure we would find some kind of answers in the house, town or church that would reveal a big secret. It was a bit disappointing. But realizing that we were not going to find anything, we did the next best thing: we imagined what our great-grandmother did along the creek when she was little, and made up our own fun stories about what life was like back then. How they did the wash right here, how they skipped rocks over the rushing water or took an afternoon swim. It was fun to imagine what the times were like back then.

After we enjoyed some more time at our family home, we went off on more explorations of Ireland. Our cousin joined us in a dinner celebration at the Bunratty Castle, where we were whisked back to ancient times with music, dancing, stories and honey mead—an extremely delicious beverage that even our cousin enjoyed. (We actually think she is the coolest nun to ever exist on this planet.) She then sent us on a journey cross-country to Dublin, where her other sister and family lived. They also graciously welcomed us into their home, and there we got to visit authentic pubs, the Guinness Factory and other city sites. Our journey then came to an end as we traveled back west and got on the plane to head home.

The feelings my sister and I were left with were truly unexplainable. Yes, it was a trip full of cultural exploration, family connectedness and definitely relaxation and hospitality. But for us, it was so much more. It had changed us. It gave us a deeper understanding of our roots. We both felt the connection to our past, and took that home with us. It strengthened our own relationship, as we had both become adults, and finally took that time to really bond with each other.

For me, it anchored part of my soul and activated something within my heart. A fire that needed to burn, but that was yet to be uncovered. I could feel it. I still feel it. One day I need to go back there. In fact, we want to buy our ancestors’ childhood home so that the history lives on for future generations—something that not many people can say nowadays.

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