A Visit to An Irish Graveyard

Ireland church
       
         When I traveled to Ireland in the early 80’s, in the days of cheap Euro-rail passes, I went by myself, which looking back was a gutsy thing to do and certainly out of character for me, a reserved introvert (and I might add the one and only time I traveled by myself).   None of my family or friends were interested in Ireland, but it was one of two places I wanted to see when I graduated, the other being New York city.  Ireland was not then the popular tourist destination it is today.    I remember it as a dismal country, full of small dreary towns, but I had Irish ancestors and even at a young age I was the family historian.   It was the stories that interested me.   In addition to researching the family history, I had booked a week at an English-riding academy, as a promise to my younger horse-crazy self.  This was in the days when Glamour magazine (my fashion bible) had the travel section, which profiled said establishment and promised a glorious week in the Irish countryside (I remember the exact wording) with lovely walks by the sea.   I must have envisioned riding to the hounds or galloping along the cliffs like  Poldark, something which appealed to the poetic me.  After spending a few days at the Dublin Library going through old microfilms of land records (computers and the internet had not been invented), I located a section of Leitrim County where there seemed to be a large concentration of Patricks and Marys and Johns with my last name, spelled with an a and not the more common o.   My dad said it was always with an a, but you have to be careful with genealogy records as variations in spelling can sometimes be the recorder’s honest mistake.    
       My great great grandparents Patrick and Mary had immigrated to Canada  in 1846 at the start of the potato famine and their 14 year old son John came a year later through New York.   For more on their story check out last years St. Patrick’s Day blog – Irish Roots.   
Patrick and Mary

Patrick and Mary – (tintype)

Their son John below, sitting in the chair, aged 80 yr in 1912. 

Family Portrait

John and Ellen Family Portrait – 1912

Patrick was proud of his Leitrim County heritage and had it inscribed on his  tombstone when he died in 1880, where it is barely legible today.    
Gravestone
After sight-seeing in Dublin, I took the train around Ireland, staying in B&B’s and doing some side tours, the usual ones, The Lakes of Killarney,
The Lakes of Killarney - AMc - 2018

The Lakes of Killarney

the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula (the only sunny day), and the Cliffs of Moher.   Readers of my long-winded posts might find it hard to believe but I bailed out of kissing the Blarney stone. Blarney castle (4)

 The medical me was horrified at the unhygienic aspect, especially considering my general lack of immunity to foreign germs, plus the thought of reclining backwards over the parapets at that height was not exactly appealing.  (see picture under Wikipedia link) 

          It was September and the weather was gloomy – it rained every day.  If it wasn’t raining, it was overcast.  (I forgot to put film in the camera, thus missing a whole role of dull gray skies).   Central heating was mostly non-existent.    I was cold all the time, and wore both of the Irish sweaters I had bought in Dublin the first week.  Cliffs of Moher (2)

It poured rain on the Cliffs of Moher and I got thoroughly soaked, then the bus broke down and we sat for hours waiting for a mechanic to arrive.   It was a scary drive back to Cork in the dark with no headlights.   Fortunately, my very kind B&B owner met me at the station, as she wondered why I hadn’t returned at 6 pm as planned.    She turned on the bedwarmer/electric blanket and after I had a hot bath, brought me tea and cookies, while I sat in bed writing in my journal about my dreadful day.  I guess you could say Ireland is where I first started to write, as I kept a travel journal  and wrote in it at night if there was nothing else to do.   Although it was easy to meet people in the B&B’s, I wasn’t much of a party person and there are only so many pub/Celtic music nights you can handle over a three week period.    Looking back over my journal entries, they’re not half bad.      

       The glorious week at the equestrian centre turned out to be one lesson in a drafty old riding ring, listening to a rude female instructor yell at a group of tweens, horses and myself, in that order.   I wasn’t sitting up straight enough, and even though I have a bit of scoliosis, she showed no mercy.  Towards the end of the lesson, when the horse sat down on me, I got off and went back to the B&B just down the road.   So much for that expensive pair of riding boots I had bought in Dublin.    The next morning I woke up with a terrible cold, but luckily I had a nice B&B to convalesce in.  The proprietress kept insisting there were some lovely walks to the sea (perhaps it was she who had supplied the Glamour advertisement), but I barely left the room, sleeping and reading, and being entertained by their talkative twelve-year old daughter (a carbon copy of Anne of Green Gables complete with red pigtails), who kept me amused with her drawings and music collection.   I would surface for supper with the only other guest, an older lady from Dublin in search of a holiday and some company.   She talked non-stop.   I listened, nodded, and after a spell by the turf fire, went back to bed.      
       When I was sufficiently recovered, I took the train to Carrick-on-Shannon.    Leitrim County (see Wikepedia) is located in central Ireland near the northern border.   It’s definitely off the beaten tourist path, but I wasn’t brave enough to rent a car as there were white crosses on the roads marking the spots where tourists had died from forgetting to drive on the left side of the road.  I  found the local parish and the priest said there was a church in Fenagh and they might have records.  He said he didn’t have any records, that I’d come at the wrong time of year and that the area was ‘polluted’ with people with my surname.  I didn’t have time to reply that it was spelled with an a, before he slammed the door in my face.   (Sigh….they must get tired of tourists).
      While I had been blessed so far with lovely B&B’s, the one I booked into  must have been the worst in all of Ireland.    It was undergoing renovations, there was doggy do-do on the stairs, no hot water or heat, and the not very nice landlady told me I had to have breakfast by 8 or I wouldn’t be getting any at all.    She did however make arrangements for a driver to take me out to the parish church.   There was only one Catholic church in the outlying area  and only one cab driver in the town.    The next morning when the driver (your typical small Irishmen), showed up he was dressed in a tweed suit and tie and not a day under 85.   He looked frail, but the B&B lady had assured me he was in good health, just a bit senile, and unlike most Irish people not much for conversation.   The only word I remember him saying was ‘aye’.    

       It was a very foggy morning as we drove out into the countryside and all I could see were hawthorn trees and piles and piles of rocks, swirled in an eerie mist.    It was the most desolate place ever, and I kept thinking no wonder they left.     The west parts of Ireland around Connemara by the sea are rocky but picturesque – but this was just plain bleak.    When we got to the church, it looked like a new modern church, right in the middle of nowhere.

     An old priest answered the door.   His eyes were red and rheumy and he looked hungover, but he opened the church so I could take some pictures.  He told me the church had been built in 1840, (so perhaps my ancestors had worshiped there), but the records only went back to 1855 because of ‘the fire’.  There were a few Patricks and one John listed in his old book but the dates weren’t right.  The church had been renovated in 1970 and there were about 700 people in the parish.  We certainly hadn’t passed any houses so the parish must have taken up a large area of the countryside.   (We hadn’t passed any cars either, so perhaps I could have driven on the right side of the road).  

       When I went back to the car the driver had fallen asleep, so I woke him up and we drove down to the church cemetery which was about a mile down the road, just outside a small village which consisted of a pub, a store, a few houses and a school.    The church graveyard was at the site of an old monastery (Fenagh Abbey) which originated around 500 AD and held the ruins of two churches which dated from the 15th century.   

Ireland church

     There were some newer tombstones, most with the o spelling, a few Patricks and Johns, and lots of crumbled old stones which were impossible to read.   I wandered around for awhile taking pictures – it was a strange  experience being in the place where your ancestors might have stood and could be buried.     The atmosphere was certainly mystical. 

Ireland church

      Patrick and Mary’s parents, being too old to travel, had stayed behind, and I assume John must have stayed with them when all the others left.   Maybe they died in the famine and so he had no choice but to leave a year or two later.  They  probably wouldn’t have had a proper burial place as in 1847, the worse year of the famine, corpses littered the fields and roads and there was no one left to bury them, nor any coffins to be had.  Tombstones were only for the rich. 

Ireland church

I recently read a book by John Kelly, The Graves are Walking, which details the horror of that era of Ireland’s history.

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John KellyMy rating: 4 of 5 stars  A scholarly well researched history of the Irish Potato Famine, this book is an important but disturbing read, especially for those of Irish descent.

 

 

Having read it, I’m having difficulty with the decision of John being left behind, but then they left in Sept 1846 when the potato crop had failed but before the worst of the famine hit, and if it was John’s decision to stay behind and go to school, then perhaps 14 then wasn’t the child it seems today.  Someone must have paid for his passage and put him on a ship to New York, the poor survival rate on the coffin ships to Canada being well known by then.   (NB: there is also a Famine Museum in Roscommon Ireland, a tribute to the national disaster). 

      When I went back to the car the driver had dozed off again and I didn’t have the heart to wake him so I wandered around some more, snapping pictures.  Finally I had to rouse him as I had to catch the train to Dublin.  The fog had burned off by then, so I could see more of the countryside on the way back, poor rocky land, the odd house, a few cows and sheep here and there.   It was September which would have been harvest season if they had been able to grow anything at all, even potatoes.    We passed a small lake, perhaps they fished?  

Ireland church
        The Irish tourism site says that Leitrim County, at 32,000, is one of the most sparsely populated counties in Ireland.   It was certainly a godforsaken place.   At the time of the famine it had a large population of over 150,000, many of whom emigrated.   When we arrived  back at the B&B I gave the driver 15 pounds instead of the 10 he requested.   I was just glad he got me back in one piece – that we hadn’t driven into a bog someplace where I might have been preserved for centuries like the famous bog man in the Dublin museum.  

         Certainly, it was a surreal experience to visit the land of your long lost ancestors.  Now that we have Ancestry.com and numerous online resources, and personal genealogists who will do all the searching for you, I might go back some day, with a more specific plan in mind.   For it has certainly occurred to me, that I possibly wasn’t even in the right place.  A few years ago, a distant relative tried to do further research and came up empty-handed.   There are so few records, that I may have to remain content with my “lost in the mists of time” experience.   

      A friend brought me back some souvenirs from her Irish trip last year, a Leitrim County flag and a miniature bottle of whiskey, which my leprechaun is enjoying here. 

        In the thirty five years since I was there, Ireland has prospered, every small town now a picture of tidy charm.   Her photographs were gorgeous, but then cameras have improved too.   Sensibly, she went in May and had two weeks of solid sunshine and balmy weather.   The clerk in the tourist shop inquired why would you want a souvenir from that place –  nobody lives in Leitrim County.   Well my ancestors once did.   I placed the flag on Patrick and Mary’s tombstone in our church cemetery, as I thought they might enjoy the fact that a great great granddaughter was thinking of them and their old homeplace.    I hope their Irish eyes were smiling down on me. 

Gravestone

A few weeks later, the flag was gone, blown away by the wind, or removed by an unappreciative grass-cutter or priest, someone trying to obliterate the past.   

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Postscript:    When I got back to Dublin, I booked a hotel on Grafton Street which had central heating, plenty of hot water and lots of shopping nearby, then switched to a B&B the night before my flight.   My suitcase was so full of souvenirs that I had to leave the riding boots behind in the B&B.  I simply could not cram them in, so I left them there beside the bed.    I hope someone else found them useful – but I have regretted that decision to this day, as there are many times when I’m mucking around in the garden in the spring when they would have come in handy!  
Irish Cottage - AMc

Irish Cottage

45 thoughts on “A Visit to An Irish Graveyard

  1. ruthsoaper says:

    I feel bad that you didn’t have a better trip but I really enjoyed reading this. I don’t know much about our family history but I do have a list of names and birthdates from my paternal grandmothers side that goes back 12 generations with the grandfather 10 generations ago (not sure how many greats that is) being born in Cavan Ireland in 1614 – coming to America in 1634 on a ship called Bonaventure to the Norfolk VA area. Interestingly the spelling of the name changed during his time as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      It is amusing now looking back, but not at the time! 1634 – you are lucky to have records that far back. I have that on my mother’s Dutch side, but Europe kept better records. My ancestors were poor peasants, so if the church records were gone, there’s nowhere else to look.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. lindasschaub says:

    You and I have mentioned this trip before in other topics and I really enjoyed the post and the pictures. I have heard the same thing about the Blarney Stone and saw the pictures – a Facebook friend (former blogger in my Patch.com group) is very Irish and went to Ireland for a family reunion a few years ago. He had alot of photos of his trip and that included the Blarney Stone – I am a germaphobe and couldn’t have done that, not to mention that I am tall and couldn’t have contorted my body to do the big “kiss”. This was very interesting – learned a lot of info and I used to read “Glamour” too and I read those travel pieces in the magazine too!

    Liked by 2 people

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      Glamour magazine was great. I used to take it to the beach and it would be my weekend treat to sit in the sun and read it. It had such style and class. Then they changed editors in the early 90’s and it became trashy like Cosmopolition, which I could not stand. I wonder if it even still exists – I’ll have to look the next time I’m in a store.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        Like you I loved Glamour magazine and I remember when they changed the format. I can still picture the young faces like Christie Brinkley, Beverly Johnson and Cheryl Tiegs gracing the covers. That would be my treat to sit down and read it from cover to cover too Yes, they did make it trashy and I just Googled and they have an online presence and it mentioned “pop culture” … probably more like People magazine. My mom and I subscribed to People for years. They had nice book reviews, movie reviews, new music/albums previews and some nice human interest stories. They kept raising the price more and more and it was outrageous, but we kept it as something light to pick up and read and in those days we were still reserving books at the library, or buying them, etc. Finally, neither of us knew half the actors/actresses or musical artists (in my case) so we discontinued it. I used to buy their double issue at year end but decided I didn’t know most of the “stars” except the ones in the “in memoriam” section.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        Yes I do remember all of them gracing the covers! My mother would buy People occasionally. I watched the Oscars this year, because I was at her place during the wind storm, and the hydro has finally come back on, but neither of us knew many of the actors or even the presenters…..plus I have totally lost touch with the music world too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I always thought Christie Brinkley was so beautiful – still is very nice looking and a few years older than we are. I don’t know anyone in the movies – not been to the show since 1992 and not rented a movie or watched one on TV in about 10 years – so I am quite out of it. I only listen to the older music stations like hits form the 90s, or maybe 80s, some 70s, but that is it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        Yes she is still quite attractive in photos, but in news clips she has wrinkles like most of us do. You had said some time ago that you had found a new radio station you liked? Did you mean 100.3 or something else?

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I’ll have to look for a video of her – yes, I just see her in pictures, maybe that are Photoshopped? I only put on WNIC 100.3 at Christmastime when they have their non-stop Christmas music. The station I discovered was 98.7 The Breeze. Now today I had it on many hours and liked 90 percent of their music – all stuff I remembered and could sing to. Sometimes I’ve had it on and they have R&B stuff, but most of it is more like soft rock. It is https://987thebreeze.radio.com/
        Hmmm – I just looked at the playlist and nothing on that playlist from the last hour I knew or could sing to: https://987thebreeze.radio.com/playlist

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I didn’t realize someone would hold you I wouldn’t do it either … my mom used to say I was afraid of my life, but I was not adventurous about everything. If you are on Facebook, look at Jill Wellington’s site on Sunday – she will feature some shots for St. Paddy’s Day of “Vintage Val” … here was a preview picture: https://www.facebook.com/jillwellingtonphotography/photos/a.431110733613799/2334058086652378/?type=3&theater

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I have not been online all day today to try to get in a long walk and some things done in the house – yeah me (for a change … trying to give my arm a rest), but I just looked and Jill has some more St. Pat’s Day pictures – more tomorrow probably. I am not on Facebook much at all. Have a friend who only uses FB to communicate (the friend in NY with the deer in her yard) and I follow local parks, and some birding sites and the news sites. Other than than, I shake my head over people needing Facebook. The other day it was down an entire day and people were fretting.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        Thanks Linda…I will check it out tomorrow. I didn’t even know FB was down. Good for you for resting your arm. I ran errands today, had to get more canvases for my mom, and actually shopped – I bought 3 winter tops/sweaters on sale, which is more than I have bought all year. They were already on sale and then 50% off the reduced price. Of course soon it won’t be winter and I won’t need them – but I’ll put them away for next year. I actually went shopping for spring tops, but everything was too ugly, or not really out yet.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I read it on Twitter actually. I follow a few weather places on Twitter (I am a weather worrier) and the other nighty during the severe weather, they werer tweeting every few minutes as to the path of the storm.
        That was one of the trending topics –
        Facebook was down an entire day. he photos today were Irish coffee and cookies.
        Happy St. Patricks’s Day to you and your mom Joan! It was good to rest my arm and from being here on the laptop tonight, it is sore – I have to try the vertical mouse. I wanted to catch up with everything first – so decided to wait until tomorrow. I am trying to be smart about my arm and ramped up the exercises too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        That was fun! Yea, you wouldn’t fine a nightgown like that anywhere now, let alone in mint green! I can’t even find a pretty pair of PJ’s – everything looks cartoonish or like something a teenager would wear. No corned beef and cabbage here! I hate the stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I thought it was fun too – she often features “Vintage Val” especially once the flowers are out. She has pictures taken in a big garden and Val has a little dog called “Morty” … so she’ll have a sundress on, maybe a hat, sitting on a white wrought-iron chair. I have not seen anything in mint green either in ages. I think I mentioned when we said we both had the blue PJs that my mom was big on top, I am not – she was short, I am tall. So I found these polar fleece PJs and got 4 pair each in large and medium and proposed I would wear the large bottoms and medium tops and she would do the reverse. Unfortunately I got them in the Fall before she passed away, and she was bedridden the last few months of her life and wanted to wear light PJs. So I ended up with 8 pair of PJs. I wear some in the house during the Winter – comfy, others to bed … the bed ones in the medium and look like I’m waiting for the floods. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        Comfort is king! I’m at the library reading my emails…..my internet was out late Monday pm, finally got internet provider to look into it, but they can’t check the outside lines until Thurs pm…..I hate Bell Canada…..but if I switch to cable I lose my cheap rate as I have been a Bell customer forever……no post this week, and miles behind now in reading. With my luck they’ll tell me on Thurs I need a new router/modem and I will have to take it to my computer shop, which is closed over the weekend…..so I may have to walk instead of write!

        Like

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        Computer fixed…..thankfully they showed up early. It was an outside line problem. I remember long yellow pads and also electronic typewriters with that white correctotype stuff if you made a mistake.

        Like

      • lindasschaub says:

        Well I can’t “like” this comment Joan! I’ve had issues with my Comcast e-mail the past week – it is out more than not, but the internet (knock on wood) is fine. I have my internet through a cable provider … it was cheaper when I still had cable TV but I cancelled that and it is $92.00 per month, just for internet, but I do have a higher speed which I got for remoting into work with a higher speed connection. Comcast told me I was entitled to a new modem a few years ago – I had been using a separate router and modem for years but then when they did the upgrade, they gave me a combo modem/router. So far it has been good, but … I always had a backup in that if Comcast went out, Marge told me I could use her wireless password. I never had to do that, but I can’t do it now as it is one piece of equipment. At least the weather may be good for walking hopefully. Our week has been cold, but nice, but Friday morning we will have a slushy snow they say. Good luck with getting your internet back!

        Liked by 1 person

      • thehomeplaceweb says:

        Computer fixed. It was a problem with the outside line, it dropped every 30 seconds, intermittently….so the Bell guys put a new phone card in the main transmission box, and the internet came up right away, but now I have static on my phone, as the old landline filters can’t handle the newer type card, but I can buy some new ones next time I’m shopping. I wish I had cable, but make do with the Bell phone connection as it is only $50/month, the same rate I’ve had the past decade, so I keep it. I’m happy it wasn’t the modem. Lots of catching up to to do tonight!

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I’m glad they found the source of the problem for you. We had a rotary dial wall phone until about 20 years ago. My mom was having difficulty getting up from the table quick enough to answer it. Anyone who knew her well, would let it ring many times and not hang up. We got a portable phone and kept it on the charger til I left for work, but it would die by afternoon, so we had them come and rewire for another port by the kitchen table. Over here in the States they say more people are dropping their landline in favor of using just their smarphones, but in an emergency the cellphone may not work. I use the landline for work mostly – today, my boss called me multiple times to work on documents with revisions – faster than writing them out. I was late getting here again and yesterday as well and didn’t finish up in Reader last night.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. www.rosesintherainmemoir.wordpress.com says:

    Your poignant piece simply amazed me, enlightened me, and inspired me, my friend! I, too, had great-great-grandparents in Ireland, James (b. 1820) and Anne Brolyn (b. 1820) from Granard, County Longford, Occupied Ireland. Their son James Patrick Nedley (b. 1847 Ireland) immigrated America with family circa 1850-60 and died 1901 in Apalachicola, Florida — my mother’s hometown. Her papa was Joseph Patrick Nedley. So the Nedleys who emigrated did, indeed, flee the famine. I had wondered about that. After reading and thinking over your story, I think I’ll do some research on Granard, County Longford, and write a piece for St. Patrick’s Day. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      Thanks Jo! That would be wonderful for you to blog on and I look forward to reading it. I am always interested in anything historical or genealogy related. I am reading with great interest your roses in the rain memoir, although I am a bit behind in my reading lately.

      Like

  4. Kim of Red Dirt Farm says:

    Oh my your trip sounds dismal, (maybe that’s how your ancestors felt too) yet so interesting, I really enjoyed reading along. The family photos are stunning. I’ve always been interested in traveling to Ireland – maybe I read too many Glamour issues. I too enjoy family history and have had plans to travel back to Germany to my ancestors home town. Happy St. Paddy’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      Thanks! It was not one of my better trips but memorable in it’s own way. I think we all read too many Glamour magazines! I have one German ancestor, great grandfather who I know nothing about other than he was a cobbler and made shoes. I have his business card. Happy St. Patrick’s day to you too!

      Like

  5. Ally Bean says:

    I’m of Irish ancestry and I hung on you every word. It’s wonderful that you had the time and inclination to explore Ireland back when you did. From friends who’ve been there in the last few years, I’d say it’s changed and is much more modern now. Also, I too was a girl who lived and breathed by what Glamour magazine told me to do. I completely understand how you *needed* to visit Ireland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      You’re welcome! I enjoyed doing it because I love genealogy and history…..but next year for St. Patrick’s Day I’m going to post a recipe for potato soup from my favourite pub that I’ve been trying to get for ages…..I’ll wear them down until they give it to me. (They don’t even have it on the menu anymore and it was so good). Have you any recipes for potato soup?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. rhc55 says:

    What a wonderful blog, but hardly a recommendation for a visit to Leitrim. I’ve been to Dublin several times and spent a week touring the south and west when our grandson was christened near Waterford. The Ring or Kerry and The Dingle are glorious, but we were lucky with the weather. What shocked us were the numerous derelict stone cottages everywhere, presumably abandoned by their occupants during the famine and never re- built, with new buildings put up by them instead. It’s a beautiful country I’d like to see more of, but probably not Leitrim…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      No, definitely not Leitrim, but it might have improved since I was there 30 years ago. If I went to Ireland again I would go in May when there is more chance of sunshine. I did enjoy writing that one though, and reading through my old travel diary.

      Liked by 1 person

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