Monday, March 17, 2014

My Irish Roots


'Tis said that everyone is Irish on this day--the 17th of March--when we celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Part of my heritage is Irish. Thanks to a great-uncle, I know now that I am half Irish. Uncle Alec visited Ireland and did some research. He brought home the true story which turned out to be a great surprise to all of my mother's family. I'm reprinting a piece I wrote about finding my Irish roots. There are links at the end to other things I've written about Ireland or being Irish. 

Finding My Irish Roots

My mother always said that her family hailed from both England and Ireland. The Doonans on her mother’s side were definitely the Irish, and her Dad’s Studham name made them English. But then, her uncle made a visit to both England and Ireland. Interested in genealogy, he spent a great deal of time checking records and returned home with a story that set the entire Studham family into a spin.

Uncle Alec learned that in the 1880’s, an Irish lass named, Mary Jane, had done the unthinkable. She was about to have a child but had no husband. Shamed and humiliated, her family turned her out, and she fled from the green hills of Ireland to the dirty streets of London. There, she gave birth to a baby boy. Later, she met an Englishman who married her and took on the child as his own. They emigrated to America when the boy was only three making it easy to cover up the truth. 

With the proof Uncle Alec had, Mother’s entire family slowly absorbed the fact that they were one-hundred per cent Irish on both parents sides. Being in my teen years at the time of this discovery, I thought the whole thing terribly romantic, and I secretly wished to visit Ireland someday. It was a time that only the wealthy vacationed overseas.

Working class people like mine stayed close to home. But I held on to my dream to visit the land of my Irish roots.

I held on for fifty years before it became a reality. My husband and I had done some foreign travel after he retired but Ireland was not among the countries we visited until 2007. We spent two weeks motoring with friends from the southeastern coast of Ireland, across the southern part of the country, then up the west coast, into Northern Ireland and back to the northeastern coast. From the moment I stepped onto Irish soil, I felt completely at home.

I had a name and address in a county in Northern Ireland where my mother’s paternal grandparents had lived in different villages. They met at a Sunday School party. John Doonan married his Elizabeth and they sailed to America where they farmed in Minnesota. We searched and searched for the address in Portadown of a distant relative until we finally discovered that a gas station stood where the house had been. Still, it was a thrill to be in the town where two of my ancestors had lived and fallen in love more than a hundred years earlier.

The green, rolling land filled me with a joy I found hard to understand. I warmed to the people and the little pubs where we ate lunch and dinner. I felt completely at home in th various B&b’s, and the lilting Irish speech sounded like music to my ears.

When we stood on the Cliffs of Mohr as the chill wind whipped my hair and I watched waves crashing far below, I wanted to stay forever. A visit to Blarney Castle with the famous kissing stone enchanted me. I’d visited my Irish roots and the images of all the places we saw will stay with me forever. 

It’s still possible to visit your roots without crossing an ocean. We have books, movies, documentaries, TV shows and websites that bring you to the country of your ancestors. There are genealogy libraries and websites that will allow you to research your own family, wherever they came from. It’s never been easier to find your roots.

Note: This story was published in Ozarks' Sr Living March 2011

Links to other writing I have done about Ireland and Irish heritage:
Nora's Journey--fiction published in Horizon magazine in Canada
Kissing The Blarney Stone--a travel essay published in several places

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