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.

Ireland Natural Wonders...it's not all about Moher

Moher, Moher, Moher

Non-stop on Irish tv has been this delightful advertisement by 7up for their 7 natural wonders of the world campaign. Ireland's nominee is the Cliffs of Moher, a beautiful set of cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean.

Well, as wonderful as the cliffs are, Ireland is fully of natural beauty from glacial lake valleys to volcanic columns on the Giants Causeway to large bogs (scary!) to waterfalls just about everywhere you look.

Here's just a few of the natural wonders my parents and I visited last month.

Dingle Peninsula


Giants Causeway

Connemara: Bogs and Lakes

Ireland's non-existent dog-culture

So...last week I took the dogs to the vet. They were due for their bordatella shot which is a requirement for them to boarded. And since they are being boarded in October for Texas-OU weekend, I wanted to make sure all the paperwork was in order. This was our first Irish vet experience.

Ireland doesn't really have what one would call a dog-culture yet. You can travel all around western continental Europe and it seems at times that dogs are more welcome in public than children. But in Ireland this is a foreign concept. Dogs are still primarily considered working animals in this very rural-minded society. Even their animal cruelty laws are a bit behind the times. But there are several very good organizations working to fix that. So they are becoming aware, but are very far behind.

And the concept of catering to people like ourselves that would gladly pay to travel with our dogs, is very far away from reality. Though dogs are welcome at hotels all across the US and continental Europe, there are not any hotels in Ireland where this is a possibility and even very few guest houses that make pets welcome. It makes TJ & Mackenzie very sad. But back to the vet...

The closest vet to our house is a 45 minute walk. Another product of the lack of dog-culture: very few vets in the city-most are in the rural areas. It's a clinic, so walk-ins only. We headed off on a bright sunny afternoon. Luckily we only had to wait about 5 minutes, so that was nice. And our vet was very knowledgeable and helpful (she is from Spain). We got TJ some medicated shampoo for his allergies that have flared up even more than in Austin. And they both got their shots. While there the vet noticed Mackenzie has a heart murmur. She said for now, just keep coming to annual check-ups, but if I notice her refusing to go on walks or coughing, to bring her in immediately. Those are signs of heart failure. While I'm not really that worried about her heart since she doesn't show any signs of calming down...ever, I thought it was a good comparison to the animal health care we have in the states. If you google "dog heart murmur" all the sites say that your vet will likely do an ultrasound or echo cardiogram to determine the cause of the murmur. But here, we are supposed to just watch for signs of cardiac arrest!

Funny side note, as we were waiting to be seen, TJ was called over by a woman to say hi. He obliged and I turned to see what he was doing and the woman sitting in the next seat was standing on her seat. I pulled TJ away and she apologized saying she was terrified of dogs. Ummmm...you're sitting in a vets office and my dog is less than 15 lbs. Anyway.

The Boys Are Back

I uploaded a new little-bit-of-orange template to celebrate the beginning of football season!

For those of you out there who hoped Ireland would provide Richard & I with a new hobby and distract us from the destructive obsession with all things Longhorn, I'm sad to say you'll be disappointed. Even the separation of the Atlantic Ocean can not deter us in our love and support for those boys in burnt orange. Last week the Horns reported to campus for what promises to be yet another championship hopeful season. With two classic revenge games lined up in the first 6 weeks of the season, how can we not be excited? I'll be back in Texas for the first one, where the Longhorns prove last year's loss to Texas Tech was just a fluke. And Richard joins me for the granddaddy of them all...Texas vs. OU.

I remember as a kid going to that game and thinking it was the end-all-be-all of lineups. And that was when Coach David McWilliams was taking our unranked Southwest Conference Horns to challenge the nearly as lackluster Gary Gibbs coached Sooners. Even in 1997 where John Mackovic's Longhorns and John Blake's Sooners squared off in what ultimately became a 4-7 losing season for both teams, the outcome of the game was crucial to my well-being. I've attended more games at the Cotton Bowl than is healthy for a person my age. I've gotten the finger from an 70+ aged OU fan as a 10-year-old. I've seen Peter Gardere beat OU 4 years in a row during the Texas Stampede, something no other QB has done. And last year, I saw the Longhorns beat the top-ranked Sooners by double digits in a game that had lead changes every quarter and drama you just didn't want to end. At the end of last year's game we sat around the steps of the Hall of State, as we do every year, and I heard the same comment over and over again. "That was one of the greatest games I've ever seen." The debate continued, was it better than either Rose Bowl game, was it better than Ohio State? Which game meant more to the program? But everyone did agree on one thing, there was little better feeling than this. Sitting in the shadow of Big Tex, a waxy paper cup of beer in one had, a Fletcher's Corny Dog in the other, basking in the high of another win over OU. This year's match up is set up to be just as exciting with just as much on the line. This year once again, it's even more than school pride, more than state pride, it's the championship hopes of both teams.

So, no, we're not over our Longhorn love. In fact, we're more excited than ever for another season. The games we can't see in person we'll be catching by Slingbox, but cheering just as loud.

Hook'em Horns!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Driving my parents around Ireland...literally around!

Since I was the experienced left-hand-side-of-the-road driver, and by experienced I mean had done it one day before, I was nominated to be the driver in our little adventure around Ireland. We started out our little jam-packed tour by heading West for a few days of golf for the gents and sightseeing for the ladies. After they'd had their fill of knee-high rough, we abandoned golf for a few days, and headed North, taking in Connemara, County, Mayo, and eventually on to Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland we visited Giants Causeway, then traveled the coastal road all the way around past Belfast then down to County Cavan where Dad & I visited the birthplace and church of our ancestors from Ireland and some cousins we have that are really not that far removed. After all that, we crashed in Dublin for a night of Temple Bar fun, then it was off to the South. Another few rounds of golf down in County Cork and then Richard & I bid adieu to the parents and let them explore County Kerry on their own. It was a fun-filled, golf-filled, virus-filled, sight-seeing-filled adventure. Over the next few days...hopefully not weeks...I will post pictures and details of the trip.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sleepy Parents at Guinness and More

The parents arrived three weeks ago to set off on a three week tour of Ireland. There was lots of golf, lots of sights and lots of Guinness. But to kick things off on survive jet-lag day we did the Guinness Brewery, Ireland number one tourist attraction! Ireland decided to show off for them with rain nearly every day. It rained quite a bit, but that just gave mom an excuse for a new umbrella. And I bet no one can guess which color it is!

In a small break from the rain, we explored a small part of Phoenix Park, a huge city park that is even larger than Central Park.