Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Eirinn go Brach" (Ireland Forever)

How old was I when I first realized our family name was Irish and then was told my Lynam great-great grandparents came from Ireland? Late teens? Twenties? By the time I was in my thirties, I was reading all I could about Irish history and subscribing to Ireland of the Welcomes magazine - using its issues to plot my someday dream trip to Ireland. It was just a dream. Then in my forties, it seemed a little more doable. I set my goal to go there for my fiftieth birthday. I didn't quite make it, but in September of 1994, two months before I turned 51, I went to Ireland! As the Aer Lingus jet lowered altitude and broke through the clouds preparing to land at Shannon Airport, I saw the "forty shades of green" patchwork fields spread below me - just like in the pictures. I cried.

The above picture was taken on my third day of driving and trying to see as much of Ireland as I could in two weeks. I was on the "Ring of Kerry". There was a lay-by (scenic view turn out) at the top of the Kerry Mountains, before the town of Waterville. This man, who I believed to be an Irish Traveller*, was playing his concertina for tips. (*Travellers are also known as 'tinkers' or 'gypsies'. I was told, or read, they prefer to be referred to as 'travellers'. There are around 23,000 in Ireland.)

As I was touring my adopted native country on my own, there are not many pictures of me. This one was taken overlooking Liscannor bay on my way to Lahinch. I bought the Aran sweater at Blarney Woolen Mills in County Cork on my second day. Even though I was there in September, it was rainy and cold - the damp cold that seeps right into your bones. I think I wore the sweater almost every day over top of at least two other layers.
Lahinch is home to world renowned links golf course, Lahinch Golf Club, founded in 1892, as well as being a destination for wind surfing.

I remember my older brother, Ronald, telling me he had heard from someone that our family came from County Cork. Cobh in County Cork was a major embarkation harbor for Irish immigrants, so it is possible they "came" from County Cork. I first learned they actually came from County "West Mead" from some distant Lynam cousins. Then, by looking at maps of Ireland, I learned it was really County Westmeath, not West Mead. And even though I made it to the County of my Great-great grandfather William's birth, I was not able to locate where in Westmeath he was born. The only information I had at the time was "near Mullingar" - not much to go on then. Now with so much information computerized, I might be able to find the exact place. (Younger brother, Les, has been in contact with a distant cousin in Canada who told him the cottage still stands, still inhabited by relatives.)

Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, was one of my 'must sees'. This sixth century monastery was the seat of learning in Ireland. It was visited by scholars from all over Europe. I spent many hours here and could have spent as many more. It is a beautiful and fascinating place located strategically on the River Shannon (behind me). The ruins of churches including "The Nun's Church" and "St. Kiernan's Church", round towers, and a cemetery are extensive. (St. Kiernan is the patron saint of Clonmacnoise.) Pope John Paul II visited here in 1979. The bullet proof shelter built for him to speak from seemed very out of place in this ancient site.

The Hill of Tara in County Meath - the mythical seat of the high kings of Ireland - lies in Eastern Ireland between Navan and Trim. It was so cold and rainy the day I arrived. I sat in the car, hoping the rain would stop, wondering if I should just visit the information center and church and forget tramping through the wet grass to reach the top of the hill and the various sites. Finally I decided rain or no, I hadn't come all this way to let a little rain stop me.
This is the picture I took of Lia Fail - "The Stone of Destiny" setting on top of the King's Seat. Legend was that the stone would roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara. There is also some controversy over whether of not this is the true "Stone of Destiny".

Irish Mythology excites me as much today as it ever did. There are so many places in Ireland I would still like to see for myself. Having a digital camera would make taking many more pictures so very doable. I note that the pictures from the nine rolls of film I took on my '94 trip
are beginning to fade. Scanning them all into my computer would probably be a worthwhile endeavor.
I remember stopping at a pottery shop shortly after leaving the Hill of Tara. The kiln had been fired. It was so warm there and I was so grateful to get the chill out of my bones.
There are many places in the world I would love to visit, but if I could only go one place, I would probably choose to go back to Ireland. It was a dream come true, one I hope I never forget. Erin go bragh!

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