The year I turned 10 years old my family lived in Scotland and England, as my Dad did sabbaticals there. That summer, Dad couldn’t resist the chance to head over to IRELAND for a bit of ancestor hunting, and we tracked down MUCKALEE; the tiny KILKENNY village that his mother’s ancestors were from.
Dad had been lost in his quest till hooking up with an old local bloke named GER DOYLE, who led us around the parish following various leads. Between each reminiscing oldster that he led us to, he’d suggest a quick “nip into the pub” where Dad was buying, and Mum waited in the car with us kids. Then Dad and Ger Doyle would come out of the pub and jump in the car and we’d be off again, to examine another lead and talk to another old character, followed by another “quick nip into the pub” and so on, with Dad getting wobblier with each pub-visit. I think Ger Doyle got quite a few free pints o’ The Guinness that day, because I remember Dad got quite unsteady on his legs, which was not his regular style at all.
After various colourful encounters with various colourful citizens, all of whom we were probably related to in some way or other, we finally met up with the priest at the local church. He pulled out some ancient parish registers and lo and behold, Dad found an entry for his own ancestors’ marriage (Brennan + Tobin) and a later entry that said they’d “departed for the colonies” (in the mid 1800s I think). At least for my Father’s Mother’s line, this is the KUNTA KINTE moment; hard evidence of our ancestors-zero who led my family to the New World, and finding that evidence was a personal triumph for Dad.
As for me, I was the only member of my family to kiss the Blarney Stone (in county Cork) and if you’ve ever had to suffer through all my windbaggery, that’s the reason why– for it’s said that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will get “the gift of gab“. I vividly remember being held by my legs by a burly surly Irishman as I hung out of Blarney Castle backwards, to kiss that old greasy stone on the castle wall. Like all tourists who’d lined up to kiss the famous stone that day, I got an official “I kissed the Blarney Stone” certificate (which has long since disappeared). The epilogue to this story came recently, when my Irish friends Greg and Louise visited San Francisco. I shared this memory of my own personal childhood triumph in Ireland, the seat of my Celtic ancestors, and was told with great glee: “Ah yes, the Blarney Stone. For a laugh, the locals around Blarney Castle piss on it after hours.”
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh!!