Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Great-Grandmother's House

I'm back from my trip to Ireland, and all I can say is it was the experience of a lifetime. We rented a car and traveled in a big circle that started and ended in Dublin, and we saw breathtaking views at every turn. There were mist-shrouded mountains, gentle lakes, and remote beaches with waves crashing at the foot of cliffs that rose hundreds of feet in the air. The people were warm and friendly, the food was hearty, and the Guinness hit the spot after a long day on the road.
The high point for me was that I got to see the remains of the house my great-grandmother grew up in, outside of Skibbereen. She is the person I based some of my "Rose Of Skibbereen" books on, and it was a poignant moment for me to see this relic of my family's past.
If not for the Internet it wouldn't have happened. I posted a message on an Irish family history message board three years ago, looking for information about my great-grandmother's family. Just six weeks ago I was contacted by a woman from Skibbereen who said she knew something about the family. It turns out she grew up just down the road from the family farm, and she knew an old man who remembered the last surviving member of my great-grandmother's family to live in the farm house.
We stayed two nights in Baltimore, which is a nearby town, and this kind woman met me and showed me around. She was a fount of information about the area, and the families who have lived there for generations. She drove me around the winding country roads (most of which are barely wide enough for one car to drive on) and gave a running commentary on every house we passed.
And then we turned up a narrow, tree-lined drive and made our way to a whitewashed house with palm trees and ferns planted around it. Maura, my guide, parked next to the house and got out and introduced me to the owner, an English woman named Doreen. Doreen was very friendly, and said I could look around as much as I liked. I went around to the side, and there it was -- three stone walls that were all that remained of my great-grandmother's house. It was an emotional moment, and I stood thinking of how 140 years ago that little girl who lived there could not have imagined what Life had in store for her  -- that she would move to America and live out her days there, in a land so different from this little house surrounded by green, hilly fields. Or that she would marry and have children, and that her descendants would be so many. Or that one of them would come back so many years later to see the place where she was born.
Here is a picture of me in front of the house. Life takes many strange twists and turns, doesn't it?