Sep 29: Finding my family in Ireland

Happy Michaelmass! Thanks Archangel Michael for all of your help this year and always!

The sun was shining bright and the morning looked promising for a beautiful day out and about exploring my Irish roots.

Mom seems to have figured out the coffee maker thingy and managed to get a pretty decent cup of coffee this morning. I’m lucky I’m a tea drinker as it seems to be a staple around here 😉

We headed in to Westport and our first stop was to visit the Clew Bay Heritage Centre. As fate* would have it, the regular genealogist that mans the centre was off today and the rest of the week attending her daughter’s wedding and the man filling in wasn’t very familiar with the area being from Tyrone himself. He was very sincere and I could tell he really wanted to help in some way. We chatted about what I knew about my family and he asked for their surnames well, that just changed things.

He said “I don’t know about the rest but Quinn’s were definitely on the islands, the Clew Bay islands and were resettled. Maybe not all of the Quinn’s and I don’t know if yours were part of that clan but it’s a possibility that when they were resettled in Westport they decided not to resettle here and emigrated instead.” Now, that came from left field and left me spinning on a very different axel.

*What I mean by “as fate would have it” is this: from the beginning I have had a lot of difficulty tracking down my family in Ireland. Every now and then I would get a little tidbit, like a breadcrumb, just enough to keep me going. It’s been a trying and difficult journey and, at the end of the day, I believe there is a very good reason for it, a lesson in the learning. So bare with me and it will all be unfolded as I journey along.

Before this news, I had explained I held little hope that they could be found as a genealogist from nearby, Sean Quinn, did some preliminary searching for me and was most shocked that he came up empty handed. Sean explained this doesn’t usually happen that he usually comes up with something, anything, even small, but my Quinn’s just couldn’t be found. So, I figured if he couldn’t find anything, then no one could and what I really was hoping for was a history of the Westport area, what the farming was like, where the farms were, more of a history, I guess, that could point me in the right direction so I could walk out and feel the area. I knew I would know if when I saw and felt it. I just needed a starting point.

The man at the Centre suggested a local book about Clew Bay archeology sites. He opened the page to a bridge that was believed to have been built in 1840. He suggested I start there, explore the site and I may meet someone there, get talking about the time period and history of the area and be pointed in the direction of someone who knows something of the area and of the Quinn’s and so on and so on. I thought it a great idea, bought the book and off we went.

We had lunch in Westport at a lovely spot recommended to us by the bartender at Matt Malloy’s. (We thought we’d have a bite to eat there but were surprised to learn they only serve dessert, the Guinness kind.) McCormack’s Restaurant and Andrew Stone Gallery.

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That’s a real crow on top of the sign
Afterwards, we made our way to Westport House. Let me start off by saying that I had a very strange and adverse reaction to Westport house. For some reason I thought Westport House was a museum holding historic items about Westport and the surrounding area. I did not realize it wasn’t until we stepped foot into it, paid the fee and began the tour.

On a complete side note: Grace O’Malley married Richard Burke. Perhaps it’s time to dust off the Burke family tree and see if there’s any relation…

We stepped into a grand room as the tour guide proudly showed off the silver and explained which items had to be sold off during the famine years as money was tight… Then she proudly pointed out the barrels on the stone terrace outside of the window – the famine bowls – where soup would be poured into the bowls to feed the poor.

At that moment, I was overcome with anger, cynicism, distrust and a sense of unfairness. These feelings stayed with me throughout the home and, when I stepped into the “famine” room – a room dedicated to the letters written by the lady of the house to the caretaker of the house regarding details of running the estate during the great hunger and how her husband, a landlord, treated his tenants so well during such a difficult time – I was struck with strong nausea and headache and had to leave the house immediately. I quickly found Mom and whispered: “I have to leave now.” She is such an amazing person and knows too well what I meant, having lived through similar situations with Dad and on other occasions me too. She made a beeline to the exit and I inhaled the fresh air, hoping for the feelings to recede. I don’t know who’s feelings I was picking up as I’m not a hater but a peacemaker. Could it have been my ancestors? or perhaps one of the tenants who felt his landlord didn’t do enough? I don’t know and I prefer to not know. Say a prayer for the lost soul and let it go.

We walked the grounds but even that felt wrong – like I needed to leave now! BUT, there were these sheep…

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and, from an artists perspective, the grounds were just so lovely. I get how the souls want recognition, yet this is my time, my place and I need to find balance. And the sheep were so darn adorable!

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The sheep won out! We chatted to them and walked closer which kind of sort of freaked them out. You could see it in their eyes “Crazy Americans, talking to us like we can talk back. Always wanting to pet us.” Everyone confuses us for Americans and we tend not to correct them, especially when we talk to sheep!

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I love watching their little bums wiggle as they quickly move away from us!

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When they felt they were at a safe distance, then they turned and watched us. Too cute!

Now it was time to leave this place. We drove out to the city centre and got some gas (and chocolate) and then pulled out. Where to now? Right, we have to go right. So we turned right. Then, after a short while, we passed a small turn off. The pressure on my head was causing a pain in head and back of my neck. I knew we needed to turn off there but didn’t say anything because, well I still doubt it after all these years. Eventually I couldn’t’ take the prodding anymore and I broke the news to mom – we have to turn back and turn down that lane. Being the amazing person she is, she doesn’t second guess me or question me, she just turns the car around at the next safe spot to do so and off we go to the lane. we drive down the lane and I can feel the pressure getting stronger and stronger. and then I see it! That’s it. That’s the place. Simon Connolly used to farm here. I just know it. It’s the place. But, I don’t say anything. I doubt it and I allow us to drive on. We get to the end of the road and see an island in the distance with a tiny white cottage on it. I also see ruins of a cottage across from me. These places are familiar but are not ours. We turn the car around and head back whence we came. I see a stone bridge in the distance and know we need to stop.

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This time I tell Mom in advance. I need to go there. It’s significant. She pulls to the side, I get out and am greeted by the most beautiful soul, a white/yellow dog, so friendly yet unassuming. Together, we walk to the bridge; He stays by my side the entire time, smelling the flowers planted on the side of the bridge. I take in the view and know in my heart and soul that my family has been here and done this countless times before me. I know and can sense Simon John Connolly standing on one side of me, Thomas Quinn on the other. Peter Murphy is here too. Wow, what a site. I take pictures, walk back to the car and bid farewell to my guide.

We drive back and I tell mom where the farm is but I want to see more just to be sure. So we turn left down another lane towards another pier. We come across more ruins. I get out and take pictures and manage to step into a pile of nettles. Ouch Ouch Ouch. My ankle is burning but it doesn’t stop me from taking pictures. This looks interesting but it’s not the place. We can turn around and go back. We stop just before the crossroads and I get out, walk to the farm and take more pictures. When I landed in Ireland, I saw myself picking flowers for my family, flowers from their ancestors land. I thought it would be dandelions or butter cups. I wondered (perhaps worried) if I would find them. I also worried that I was perhaps a little crazy and was doubting that this was even happening – I mean really? What if I’m making it all up. Could this really be the place? Could this really be Simon John’s farm and the Quinn’s too?

I took the last photo, lowered my camera, soaked in the moment, then turned to walk back to the car. Doubts plagued me, yet at that moment, I looked down and stunned into peace, I smiled, a slow grateful smile. Grandma had given me the best gift yet, a bunch of daisies peeked out next to my foot. There were six in total. One for each of Dad’s siblings, one for me and one for Mom and one to stay here for my ancestors.

I know better than worrying over such silly things as how can I do this, will I know etc.,  because, what is meant to be will be. And now I know why my family has been so hard to find in the records, because some things aren’t meant to be seen. They’re meant to be felt. To be lived.

The headache, the pressure, the heavy heart have all lifted. For the first time in many years I feel a sense of completion, a sense of closure. I feel that Tom Quinn can finally rest. That now that someone knows who he was, where he came from, that he existed, he can finally sleep.

It was an emotionally exhausting day. I came home, readied myself for bed – after enjoying our evening glass of Baileys (or two) – and peaked out the window. Oops, peaking out the window was not such a good idea, but at the same time, WOW! The sky was full of stars! I stepped out and was amazed at how clear the sky was and there, right over there, that’s the milky way. No driving an hour out of the city late at night, nope, all I had to do was step out my back door. I went back in the house, put on some warm clothes, woke Mom up to come check it out and then the night photography session began.

Unfortunately they didn’t turn out as well as I hoped but there’s always another night…

A sleep-in is expected tomorrow morning! As is a trip to Knock and then we’re off to the fjord so I can pick-up my heart from where I left it on our drive here 😉

God bless!

Wanda

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