Home to IrelandJim & Betty with Jim’s brother and sisters at Muckross House, County Kerry, in 1999
Submitted by Jim Sanford
My mother Margaret, (nee Hogan), through stories and song, instilled in me at an early age a great sense of pride and interest in our Irish ancestry. I never fully understood the significance of those feelings until at age fifty-three my wife, Betty, and I traveled to the Emerald Isle for the first time. Since that first trip in 1997, we have made five more visits, most recently in June of 2006, each time having new and unforgettable experiences.
The best advice I received prior to that first trip came from a travel book, in which the author suggested reading all I could about Ireland including its history. For the better part of the year before our trip, I devoured every piece of Irish history and information I could get my hands on, including subscribing to “Ireland of the Welcomes,” a monthly publication promoting the wonders of that beautiful country. I began collecting and listening to traditional Irish music to the point where I now have about fifty CDs covering a wide range of Celtic music.Jim and Betty with Milton the chicken at Knockahopple Cottage
By the time we were ready to begin our Irish adventure, I was afraid I had built such high expectations that I might be disappointed. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The reality of Ireland far exceeded my wildest dreams and still does to this day. It is not just about the landscape – which is indeed beautiful, wild and remarkably green – it is about the people – their genuine friendliness, care and good nature. This fact has always amazed me, considering Irish life, until recently, has been so hard.
Centuries of oppression accompanied by tragic famines plagued the Irish through the mid 19th Century resulting in a decrease of millions of the population due to starvation, disease and emigration. Coincidently, no word in the Irish language (Gaelic) exists for “emigration,” only “banishment,” for why would anyone choose to leave such a beautiful place? For many of us who have had the good fortune to spend time in Ireland, the passionate pride and love of the Irish for their country is easily understood.
It is fairly common for people of Irish descent returning “home” for the first time to experience strong emotions during their visit to “the olde sod,” very similar to what Alex Haley described in his stirring book, “Roots.” I know a Native American man named Everett Largo who was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation near Shiprock, New Mexico. He swears that whenever he visits the old places where his ancestors lived, he can hear the whispers of past “Diné” (“The People”) and feel them as they lightly brush by. I believe this to be true because of similar experiences I and others have had while in Ireland, something I would refer to as our “genetic memory.” Much like the powerful instincts of animals, I believe we have stored in our mind memories of people, places and occurrences possibly from several centuries past.Jim, seated center, with his Irish cousins in 2001
As our plane passed over the Dingle Peninsula on its approach to Shannon Airport, I had this knowing sense of having come full circle since my Great-Grandfather, John Hogan, left his home of Coolboreen, County Tipperary, forever in 1865. Standing in a famine graveyard near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, I felt that one or more of my relatives may have been buried among the hundreds of unmarked graves in that large open field. I could also see through my mind’s eye the scores of dead and dying children whose mouths were green from eating grass along the side of the road. As tears welled up and my throat tightened, I had a strange feeling that I had witnessed these events first-hand.
The harshness of that time, as well as many other difficult periods in Irish history, only makes me more proud and appreciative of my Irish heritage and the goodness of the Irish people.
Jim and his wife Betty live in Phoenix, AZ. You can email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim and Betty appeared in Day 12 of our Irish-American Roadtrip http://irishfireside.com/roadtrip-details/
“Home To Ireland” is an excerpt from “Memories of Ireland” by Seamus Hogan (Jim Sanford). Copyright February 2006. All rights reserved. Published with permission from the author.