I finally made it to Ireland, land of my mother's ancestors (Vaughan and Kurtz or Curts). I didn't make it all the way to the western part of Counties Cork and Clare, but did go south through Cork City to Cobh, and got a feel for the countryside.
I also spent 1 1/2 days wandering Dublin. I saw the Book of Kells behind glass in a very dark room, followed by the Long Hall (special collections) at Trinity College.
On the last day in Dublin I walked a long ways through regular folks' neighborhoods to the Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin's first Catholic cemetery and final resting place of Michael Collins and other rebels. It was filled to the brim with beautiful monuments and headstones, plus a very touching 'Old Angels' green space where the poor and babies were once buried in unmarked graves. It is surrounded now by engraved markers and mementos of babies who died in the 1950s and 1960s.
Cobh ("cove") is a beautiful little seaport on the southern end of Ireland, built into a steep hill. It was the point of departure for many fleeing the potato famine, and the last port the Titanic stopped in. They have a Heritage exhibit that's very good at evoking the sights and sounds of those days. It was also a luxury for me to stay in a hotel room with a great view, free WiFi, and a bathtub! I got to Skype with my son Jake for the first time since leaving the US on August 19.
|"Will they know their lost little children?" Tim O'Brien song|
I realize that I spent most of my time talking with locals and tourists from other countries, rather than visiting the sights. I listened to trad jam sessions; had Jameson's whiskey, Smithwicks ale, seafood chowder, brown bread, and fish and chips; met local librarians, a bartender, a family with the last name Faughan (not related to Vaughan), tourists from South Africa and Australia, and an old Irishman taking advantage of the free public transportation for pensioners to ride the train to Dublin for a lecture on Byron. Many times on the tram or streets, I heard people speaking Gaelic which has a nice slushy sound. All the signs are in both Gaelic and English, but I cannot understand how they get 'Smithfield' from something like 'Margedh Faerme.'
On the last day, riding the top of the double decker bus back from the cemetery, I saw hordes of people dressed in the jerseys of either Tipperary or Kilkenny for the All-Ireland hurling championship. A man told me that it's the Super Bowl of Ireland, and we must root for Tipperary, the underdogs. (Later I found that some Vaughans used to live in Tipperary.) Alas, Kilkenny won again.
Every Irish person I met was friendly and tried to be helpful. It was a degree beyond the courtesy shown tourists in the other countries we've visited. But there was also some blatant prejudice voiced in jokes about immigrants and Scots. I guess there's that kind in every country, including the US, who fear and hate those who are different. My ancestors were probably farmers, just regular people, with their faults as well as points of pride.