What happens when you’re sick over wanting to be back in a place where you don’t belong?
An ache. That’s what Ireland was to me.
It wasn’t leprechauns, luck, pots of gold, or Guinness Beer. I avoided those things like the plague. I didn’t even kiss the Blarney Stone.
Upon arriving in Dublin, after a bustling lively night on the low side of town amongst lively working class families in a kebab joint, we stayed a night in a tiny converted appartment. I wondered how many generations sqeezed between those wallpapered walls.
We drove south. I didn’t know it at the time, but every morning would be like this one.
A gray mist layover the enchanting fields. The sun began to spread itself for only a few moments around ten. Then it was back to raindrops on the windshield pointed towards Glendalough. The tints of red in my hair blew out the window, recessive genes from the Viking invasions in Ireland.
The old Gaelic tounge on the radio sounded strangely familiar. And I could speak the cry of the fiddle.
When we arrived, a burn trickled, clear yet entirely black from the earth below it. Gold coins glinted beneath the bridge. Water was sacred to the ancient Celts and the modern offerings were an ancient tradition from that folklore.
And then I left with pictures that were disappointing. They didn’t capture the charm of the sheep painted blue or the way that the wild grass sprouted like the hair of a banshee out of a black mud. Every morning proved a cold drizzle until the glorious sun rays fell down to the pasture land that turned from deep green to vibrant and back again. I was eternally captivated.
Driving through the verdant green fields I asked aloud, “How could a place this fertile have a famine?”
I felt a tie to the land and the people that inspired me to investigate my Irish family further. Using the resources I’d picked up on at Salt Lake City’s Family History Museum, I traced my Irish Roots back to Galway, the harbor where so many Irish fled to America from politics and famine. The west suffered the worst of it.
Driving near the sheep folds of Galway I pictured peasant farmers, forced to be agricultural slaves in their own homeland. The conquering English had declared that simply being Irish in Irish lands was a metaphorical sin. The native Irish were unable to go to school, speak their language, practice their religion, or own land. English nobels told the Irish exactly what they could grow, and where. And for most of them, that was patatoes. Exports of other crops, easily grown in Ireland, were exported by foreigners as a millions of people starved to death. It was on the roadways of Galway that entire families were found dead with green around their mouths from trying to sustain themselves by eating grass.
Another two million people fled to America. Ireland is the only country in Europe with a population lower than 300 years ago.
But even more surprising than the discrimination that the Irish had historically faced and the pride that they now felt about being Irish, was a statement that I heard by David, a Dubliner who gave me the skinny on recent Irish history, “People shouldn’t have to pay for the sins of their forefathers” he said referring to the bad blood between the English and Irish. And that sentiment of forgiveness and willingness to move on was what took my breath away.