St. Patrick’s Day is near, near enough to make me think of Ireland. Near enough to make me think of Ireland and family history. Ireland and Mark Hunt, an ancestor of my husbands who left his descendants a gift. A gift in the form of a journal from a childhood spent in Ireland.
This gift, this treasure was read several times over the years, read in wonder to our daughters as we admired Mark’s civil war sword, handed down over the generations, now in our possession. Using this Journal as a guide, Scott and I built in a week to travel to the home of the Hunts. To Scott’s Ancestral home.
Searching the journal for some basic facts and making some assumptions, this is what we knew: Mark grew up in Monasterevin Ireland. We knew as a boy, Mark’s job was to drive the dairy herd over the High Bridge each morning to a pasture. We knew his father was a keeper of the locks on the canal that cut through the small town. We knew they were Protestant, not Catholic so we assumed they were English/Scottish transplants.
Armed with this knowledge we began to plan our trip. I contacted Monasterevin, also know as the “Venice of Ireland” according to their Facebook page. Imagining the only landmark still standing was the “high bridge” that young Mark drove his cattle over, we asked directions. This was a canal town after all and we guessed there was more than one bridge.
Their response: Bridge across the Grand Canal just outside town opposite the old Ballykelly GAA pitch.
Just so you know, for some reason Scott and I found this HILARIOUS. It really is though. What was GAA pitch? And if it was the “old” one, how in the world would we find that? And outside of town? North? South? All that said, we were grateful for the response.
Armed with this info, after a LOVELY few days in Dublin we headed to Scott’s ancestral home. We pulled off the main highway and down a road into a town that had clearly been bypassed and forgotten. It had a ghost town feel as you drove in. There were a few businesses, and some stone structures standing perfectly, roofs long gone, trees growing inside. We parked our car and wandered around a bit and found the Protestant church, formidable, fenced, gated, chained and padlocked. This church was mentioned in the journal, so excitedly we stood on the sidewalk, squeezed between the bars trying to get a picture when a lone bike rider passed, a slim and sort of scrappy looking man, staring us down. As he passed he called out, “Yer a pair of shits.”
Stunned, we watched as he rode off, shaking his head. And then we laughed. And laughed and laughed.
“Welcome Home Scott,” I said. (Just as a side note, this is how we now refer to ourselves… Scott and I, a pair of shits)
So the whole “Ancestral Home” thing was a bit of a disappointment. Ghost town, surly Irishmen and all, but we got our photo on High Bridge. We imagined the sound of cattle clopping over it and a young boy driving them.
We went on to discover a different Ireland, a land of lovely rolling emerald green hills, stone fences, roadways shared with sheep. Talkative B&B hosts, Sean who insisted on keeping his pub open while we watched the US play a World Cup game, drawing a beer and chatting with us, explaining exactly what GAA was and talking politics. Ireland, a sense of history so deep, a historical scar of poverty and oppression that simply took your breath away.
It was rainy, damp and cold while we were there, yet we sat in overcrowded steamy pubs, drank Irish coffees to warm up and once shared our table and a meal with some “Kerrymen” who laughed when Scott told them I made him stop to take pictures of sheep. And the music. The Kerrymen were there for a beer and the music.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, I might just warm up in our little rainy town with a hot Irish coffee, toast Mark Hunt, and Sean, and the Kerrymen and play the CD we bought in a stone pub in Dingle.
If you are interested, I have included a link to several interesting sites from our Ireland trip…
Best B&B we stayed at: Mentioned above. Sean Collins B&B
If you want a true Downton Abbey experience, visit this park and house. We did not spend enough time, and having to do over again would have spent a day here, the house was very cool, but the trails and park looked beautiful. Muckross House Killarney National Park
In Dingle we visited this pub often for music. When joined by the Kerrymen, mentioned above, we learned that the young girl singing had once performed in Carnegie Hall. Murphey’s Pub