Discovering My Irish Family Heritage | My Family Travels

My heart raced as the van slid around yet another tight corner, narrowly missing the oncoming traffic by inches and sending me sliding into my fellow passengers. Was I in a car chase? An action movie? No, this was just the daily experience of my father navigating narrow Irish lanes in a large black van, which we needed to hold my siblings and I, my parents, and my Irish grandmother. In the summer of 2018, my family traveled around the British Isles for three weeks, and this method of transportation was what we used to visit castles, mountains, family graves, lochs, canals, and most significantly, the Irish extended family I didn’t know existed, which became the defining point of the trip for me. Throughout this journey, I not only gained new knowledge of Ireland, but also learned how strong family connections can be.

The heart-stopping trip in the van ended with us pulling up to a farm on the outskirts of Roosky, a beautiful town situated in the county Roscommon in central Ireland, a farm which my father enthusiastically informed us had been in the family for several generations, and which he fondly remembered visiting as a boy. My siblings and I stepped nervously onto the muddy ground, uncertain what to expect from the people we had never met. Our fears were quickly dispersed once we were introduced to my cousin-twice-removed Michael and his brother Johnny. After giving us a tour of the fields and stables, they welcomed us into their home, where they served us boxty, a traditional Irish potato pancake, and brought out family scrapbooks to look at. I was amazed at this part of my heritage which had been previously unknown to me, even as this place was so familiar to my father from his childhood, and I felt lucky to have this enlightening experience.

That evening, my family drove to a local pub to have dinner with our family members who lived in Roosky. There, we took several minutes to shake hands with various great-uncles and cousins-twice-removed. My little sister’s hands were swallowed up by the huge, Irish farmer hands of my grandmother’s cousins Gerard and Eugene. We spent a wonderful evening eating fish and chips, laughing, and passing around more old family photographs collected throughout the years, which was an amazing look back at all the people in my family who had come before me. At the end of the night, I was sorry to have to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I had met, but I was so grateful for the opportunity to get to know them better.

Our family’s trip to England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland took us to so many wonderful places and through so much beautiful scenery, but it was the experience of meeting my extended Irish family that left me with the strongest impressions from our trip. I learned how important it is to keep an open mind, because you can find generosity in the most unexpected of places. The warmth and kindness my distant family members showed us taught me of the power of blood even across great distance and time. Seeing the family farm, paying respects at the family graves, and talking – and laughing – with my Irish family gave me a deeper connection to my Irish heritage, and allowed me to learn more about the experiences and lives of my ancestors. I hope that one day, I can bring a family of my own to Ireland so that I can pass on the culture and family history I learned about during our trip.

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