Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Today is my favorite holiday. It may even beat out Christmas, in my book. This year we had a very low-key St. Patrick’s Day, complete with Bailey eating my corned beef as I was making sandwiches, but I did spend some time going through my photos from our last trip to Ireland.
In 2011 my father finally made it to Ireland. We’ve spent years tracing our family tree though Ancestry.com and other websites. Chris and I went to Ireland before we got married, but we had only been to Dublin. My father flew our entire family out there this time around, renting an amazing house in County Meath.
If you are ever looking for a place to stay in Ireland, Tony and Wendy, who own Abhain Lodge, are fabulous. We still stay in touch today!
While in Ireland, we spent time in Navan, Dublin, and all over the coast. Chris and I spent a day driving along the Irish Sea, and I happily dipped my toes into the cold water. I grew up minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been swimming in the Caribbean. But I had not stepped in the same waters that my ancestors sailed so many centuries ago. It was cold, but thrilling.
But the most amazing part of our trip fell into place only a few days before we flew to Ireland. For years, my father and I researched my great-grandmother’s history. We knew she fled to the US as a teenager, after her mother died and her father remarried. She did not have much contact with her many brothers and sisters back in Ireland and rarely spoke about them. We did not have much to go on, so about 5 years ago we posted a message on an ancestry.com forum for her surname. We received a few responses, but no solid leads.
About two weeks before we left to visit Ireland, my father called me to say he had just received a notification that we had a response to a message and he wanted to know what I had posted. I racked my brain and all I could come up with was the question we had posed years earlier. Thinking it must be a mistake, we logged in to check. And there it was: a message from a man who said his father has a half-sister whose story matched my great-grandmother’s. It seemed too good to be true, but we emailed him via private message and waited.
All of it matched. A little digging, a few conversations, and it was clear that my great-grandmother was his father’s half-sister. The next think I knew, my great-uncle Ronnie was asking to meet with us when we arrived in Ireland. We set up the date and time and agreed to pick him up at the train station in Dublin and then he would take us on a tour of Kildare, where my great-grandmother grew up.
It was an amazing journey. We learned that Ronnie and my great-grandmother were very close, and that she had even named him! (After a famous movie star at the time). She later went on to name her son Ronnie, too. She was a teenager when he was born, after her mother died and her father remarried. About a year later, she boarded a ship to the US and never returned. Ronnie had heard she lived somewhere near NYC, but was never able to track her down. He went on to become a successful businessman and even traveled to NY a few times, visiting his siblings and relatives in the area. But he never saw Hannah again and did not think he would hear about her again. Then his son happened to see our post online.
The entire journey was amazing, but meeting up with my great-uncle was life-changing. We exchanged stories and photos, telling him about my great-grandmother while he led us around Sallins, Naas, and Kildare. We visited graveyards and the family home, and even managed to get inside the house where he and my great-grandmother grew up. He told us stories we had never heard and we even learned that we are related to Michael Collins.
St. Patrick’s Day has always been important to me, but even more so now that we have learned more about our Irish heritage and I have stood where my ancestors stood.