Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chasing the Past...the stereotypically-American search for Irish roots

All my life I've been told to be proud of my Scot-Irish heritage. That was on my mother's side. And I have always been proud. I was also told of my Irish roots on my father's side, but Dad was hazy on the details, so I knew it just added to my Irishness. So when we got the opportunity to move to Ireland, I was really excited about further researching my genealogy.

I've already done a bunch of the research and it's a hobby I return to from time to time trying to fill out more and more branches to the family tree. I've got my maternal grandfather's side back to the early days of colonization in the States and in some places back to England. My maternal grandmother's family was poor with very little records dating their whereabouts complicated by the common surname, McClain. So I know very little about them, except what we were told by my grandmother before her passing and what my cousin Mike was able to track down which doesn't go much further back than 3 generations.

My dad's side remained a mystery. I'd periodically attempted to get details from family members, but no one seemed to know much. After a few more emails and phone calls back home, my grandmother sent what details she could remember. Her maternal great-grandparents all were Irish born, but we don't have many details on the Riordan side. Her maternal grandmother, Alice Lyons, came over from Ireland at a young age with two brothers. They eventually settled in Houston, via New York and New Orleans. She died at a very young age which is why people don't seem to remember much about her.

Through some strange fate, my grandmother had been exchanging Christmas cards with a distant relative in Ireland for years. My uncle had visited them in the 80s and they had stayed in contact. I got the phone number of this mysterious relative, Rosemary. No one had yet been able to explain the relationship to me. But I called her up. It turns out she lives not more than 20-30 minutes away on the other side of Dublin from me. It took a while with our busy schedules, but we finally got to meet when my parents were visiting.

It was a fantastic visit with Rosemary, her brother James and family, though it took all of us a while to work out what the actual relationship was. The next week we were fortunate enough to go out to County Cavan and visit again with James who raises cattle. He has a real interest in genealogy as well and has a lot of records. James has a great mind for facts and history, which made his tour of the area absolutely fascinating.

We were able to visit the home where my great-great-grandmother, Alice was born. It's now used as a shed, but the building is still there and intact. We also visited the church where all the Lyons family were baptized, etc. It was quite a meaningful experience to feel connected to people I had just met that have been living an ocean away all these years. We could have passed each other a dozen times in the street in Dublin and never known that we were second cousins twice-removed. ;)

I know my grandmother would like nothing more in the world to have come to Ireland and seen these places for herself. I hope I get the chance to take her there myself.

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