02 December, 2013

Where It All Begins...

Dear Readers, I must tell you, I am feeling a bit bittersweet and nostalgic. As time waits for no one, this is to be our last digital foray together from across the pond. Four short months ago, I was warning you not to get hung up on Guinness, and now it is the only elixir to my heartbreak. My time in Ireland is quickly approaching its grand finale, and with it comes all the feelings reminiscent of saying farewell to a very close friend without knowing when your paths will realign again. It's going to sting quite a bit, but I take solace in knowing that I was able to experience just about everything here that I set out to. One of the most important personal experiences for me was getting to meet my relatives in Ireland. I made it a goal to find out where I came from during my time in Ireland; of all my Euro-genes, I've always felt most akin to my Irish heritage and I needed to discover anything and everything about my genealogy.

The road to Maghera
For the sojourn of self-discovery, I was joined by my parents, my aunt Mary, and my cousin Emily. We all had a curious interest to find out more about our Irish heritage in the mysterious Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. After a couple nights in Dublin searching for the groups idea of a perfect Irish pub (“Traditional, not too crowded, but with music, and a good wine list.” It turns out that people like music, and establishments with live music are filled with people!) my parents and I headed up to Belfast on the bright-and-early train to meet up with Mary, Emily, and the relatives. We got off the train and were warmly received by Siobhan (I will spare you most of the second cousins of the twice removed jargon, it gets to be a bit much to wrap your head around) who lives right outside of Belfast near her sister Grainne. After that, Siobhan and Grianne's father, Paddy, drove us and hour out of Belfast to their home in Maghera, where we met Susan, Grianne and Siobhan's mother. Susan and Paddy lived a beautiful property that Paddy had built himself overlooking the Sperrin Mountains, some of the mountains even had snow-capped peaks. It was a very calming place to live, even with five Americans spending the weekend with you.

The hospitality was felt warmly and immediately as Susan treated us weary guests to an incredible meal of tomato soup, baked salmon, and plenty of spuds. This was followed by a delicate ballet of a dessert, a symphony in Taste Heaven, Minor: Susan's Pavlova. Crescendos of taste bud ecstasy washed over me like while the Pavlova's texture felt not unlike a gentle warm breeze enveloping you while dipping your toes in Galapagos ocean water. This is not an exaggeration.

Conversation around the lunch table did not feel forced for a moment, it really was like meshing with you family. We had an itinerary for the day, so shortly after the meal we got into two cars and headed north for the sleepy town of Bushmills. I say sleepy because it's a vintage small town with the air of whiskey mash drifting throughout the streets. So everyone's probably in a constant lull. Susan, Grainne, Mary, Emily, my parents and myself were of course there for the Bushmills Distillery tour. I was keen on not missing it as Bushmills is my favorite Irish whiskey and this was also my third time and possibly final time in the North, and I had not yet visited the distillery. The tour of the fully-operating distillery was given by a stern Ulster Irishwoman with a tongue piercing who said she liked to pour Bushmills in her morning porridge. Not a bad idea, I guess the time to catch her in a smile is post-oat and pre-tour. This was my third whiskey distillery tour in Ireland, and I'd have to rank it as one of the best, next to the Dingle Distillery which was craft class. I'd rank it above Jameson because it's an operational distillery, and afterward the tour is over, you're permitted to try mostly any of the whiskey varieties including the 8, 10, and 12 year. That's a treat; Jameson just gives you the ol' standard.

The Causeway with Grainne.
Next up: Giant's Causeway. It was nice to go again, especially since my family had not been before. Bonus: we didn't get charged to park or enter. Champlain College, be sneakier next time. The wind resoundingly howled and the waves crashed with great might as the peach sunset fought with nectarine colors for space over the darkening sky. It was a great scene to experience and pay tribute to the mysterious setting of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy album cover.

We returned to Maghera after the Causeway to prepare for the evening's Gathering. Susan had invited all of the relatives over for dinner so we could meet the clan. Before they arrived, we read through the impeccably accurate photo album that Susan had kept of our families relation, my great-great grandmother Margie, or Sissie as she was known in Ireland, and all of her descendants, including us! It's not easy work compiling all the branches of a family tree, but Susan did a fantastic job of doing it. Once we finished, the relatives started rolling in. Everyone was so happy to meet us and genuinely welcoming and as interested in getting to know us as we were of getting to know them. We had a wonderful evening of conversation, story-swapping, lot of photos, and more Pavlova! Even though we spoke of lifetimes and generations, of the inception of the Farrell clan many years ago (who we all came from) and Northern Irish history, the evening went by as quickly as the blink of an eye. Before I retired for bed, I thought myself how lucky I had been to get to meet the people I come from in their homeland, and luckier still to call these high caliber, genuine people my roots.

"Digging," Ballagh's tribute to Seamus Heaney.
The next morning was another lesson in a meal-time spread. We were treated to a decadent full-Irish and then some before we headed off to take the tour of the town of Sissie and the rest of our family. To do so, we drove towards Derry through the valleys of more gorgeous mountains and to a town where our great-grandparents and relatives lived called Ballyness. It is a very open, beautiful area that is quite soothing to the soul. Susan and Grainne brought us to the family lane there, where Susan's brother Mickey and his son lived. Where is that tradition in America? We need more family lanes to pass down to our children, I think it's a great lost tradition and quite quaint. From there, we were joined by Susan's brother Eugene as we visited the school and house where Sissie grew up. The schoolhouse was overgrown with ivy and felt like a preserved relic of a past age. We also visited her gravesite, as well as other members of or family who had passed. Grainne told me that we were very close to Ballagh, the late, great Irish poet Seamus Heaney's hometown, and his final resting place. As it were, Susan went to Queen's university with his wife Marie and maintains a close friendship with her to this day, as well as his brothers. I asked if we could visit his grave, and we did. I must say that I did feel quite a presence at his site; the man continues to make an impact to this day and as a writer and recent student of his work, it was a great honor to pay my respects and tributes to him.

The Schoolhouse of Ballyness.

After we stopped to see Seamus, it was time to return back to Belfast and take the train back to Dublin. Goodbyes are never easy, but something tells me this was more of a see-you-later rather than fare-thee-well. I had a truly fulfilling time getting to know each and every family member over the weekend, and have every intention of keeping in contact and visiting as soon as possible. I cannot express my gratitude for their welcoming hospitality and warmth, I hope that I can return the favor in America as well. Grainne and Susan especially: let us treat you to a 'Merican weekend. Well, this is me signing off. I hope you've enjoyed reading the rants and raves of my scattered mind this semester. To those who kept reading, thank you, and to those I offended, here is a link for cute kittie pictures, hopefully they make you feel better. From Dublin, with love, over and out.


-Ted Kammerer
Professional Writing Major,
Champlain College Dublin Fall 2013
Champlain College class of 2014

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