Time seems to move quickly these days and catastrophic events are happening to those I care about. People have been dying right and left throughout the past decade, something perhaps to be expected at my age, but not welcome in any case. Early this summer it suddenly struck me not to wait any longer for our second trip to Ireland, the first of which had occurred before I began to research so deeply. I wanted very much to meet Jane Lyons, whose listserve and web site (From Ireland) has been invaluable to me, both informationally and in developing friendships. I felt as if Jane and I were somehow kindred spirits, except that we hadn’t yet met in “real time.”
I also wanted to meet, if possible, the author John Maher, whose book, The Luck Penny, I had enjoyed so much. His tale of a character traveling between Laois and Kilkenny to attend a funeral helped to clarify for me how close in proximity the towns I was researching in Ireland were — comparable to those in the Naugatuck Valley and New Haven County, where the first immigrant families I have studied settled.
I hoped to meet one of the first people I had communicated with in 2006 when, in fear and trepidation I began to share information online with complete strangers. Such a delicate balance, that, particularly when there is so much to learn before it is possible to actually have answers to the kinds of questions people ask. I can still clearly remember weighing the difficult decision to open the first attachment someone sent to share a photo of his family.
Not only was it possible to meet everyone, but we also met two new people who may be related! Soon it came to feel as if we had long been friends and were simply reuniting, much as it does when we travel to see our extended families in the United States. Three such gatherings of different kinds occurred in three different states within the week after our return from Ireland. While all wonderful in their own rights, they quickly put my Irish pilgrimage behind me.
With almost all other daily obligations fully back on the plate of the present, the difficulty in knowing where to place one’s attention in the hours allotted each day has returned. How to choose between equally imperative priorities? Commitment to this blog may ensure that the thread of Ireland will remain intact and be given regular attention, even when the school year begins. (Artists who choose to teach have two simultaneous, and sometimes competing, careers to juggle. An artist/teacher who also takes on a research project like this may have three–or may need to have her head examined!)
We arrived in Dublin early in the morning, rented a car and drove into town for a brief stay before launching off to begin my loosely planned series of visits throughout the midlands. There were specific towns I wanted to see and walk within, places where my ancestors might also have traveled or lived for a while. I needed to feel in my body the space of the land I’d read about and about which I had scoured so many physical and microfilm records, looking for clues. This area of Ireland needed to feel as present to me as my childhood neighborhood in Connecticut is, where a memory can flash and linger at will in full frame, a snapshot archived in my mind. I wanted to walk through a town and picture my ancestors across the street ahead of me, as if in translucency, barely imaginable through the cosmic veil that separates us. Certainly I have felt them invisibly leading and guiding me throughout these years of study. Now it seemed time to visit them on their turf.
My husband is a good driver, comfortable behind the wheel, but even he struggled a bit to remember how to drive on the left in busily trafficked Dublin. We went into the National Gallery of Ireland as a logical first place to wander while we got our bearings. Their historic permanent collection, including that of Irish artists, was impressive and it deserved a much longer stay than we gave it that morning. We had brunch, along with quite a number of people, it seemed, for a Tuesday, in the museum’s comfortable and brightly lit Gallery Restaurant, then high tailed it out of town to the wide open spaces.
O’Donohue, John, Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Cliff Street Books, 1997.
©2011 Janet Ní Mheachair (Janet Maher)
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