BY MARY MALLOY
How can I describe how it felt to stand in the same spot my great-great-great grandparents stood when they took their wedding vows in County Carlow, Ireland, in 1845? Romantic? Definitely. Surreal? For real! It was wonderful, and a long time in coming.
Working as a reservationist for an Ireland Tour Operator, I knew so much about Ireland - through training classes, brochures, photos, and hearsay. Yes, I was the expert on sending others to the enchanting country of Ireland for their dream vacations. So, when a spot came up, my company helped send my husband and me on a "Pub Tour" last November. We jumped at the chance.
Quite a few people go to Ireland in search of their roots. Thanks to my brother Bob's in-depth, genaeology research, not only did we already know our Irish roots, we had the name of every ancestor on the whole darn family tree!
The tour was wonderful, stopping at pubs along the way for a pint or a bowl of soup, taking in the local flavor; visiting the quaint city of Galway, touring across the Irish landscape, seeing the towering and magnificent Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Connemara, and eventually cross-country to Dublin, an exciting and historic city in the Emerald Isle.
My husband Michael and I had a plan, though, to deviate from the group, as fun and high-spirited as they were. We hated to leave the jovial and knowledgeable tour guide Alan, but we were on a mission! We skipped the Guinness Storehouse tour (yes, we should be slapped!) rented a car from dependable Dan Dooley and took off - well, slowly at first, because driving out of Dublin is something like maneuvering rush-hour traffic in Manahattan, only on the other side of the road (which is how New York cabbies drive, anyway...)
Eventually, we were on our way, and found the small town of Bagenalstown, where one branch of my ancestors lived their lives, or part of their lives. The Railroad Inn welcomed us, fed us delicious Irish fare, and gave us directions to St. Mary's Church. Of course, we had to get the key from Jackie Rae, the town mechanic and deacon of the church, I believe. He took us over and let us in after some friendly grumbling. After all, we had interrupted his day, but he was not to let us leave without helping us in our pursuit.
The church was enormous. I must have thought it was going to be a tiny, creaky structure, but it was a fine, towering, stone building, complete with a bell and steeple. We were in awe. Inside it smelled old, that pleasant musty smell that reminds one of many years of use, and some years of neglect; on the floor were bright-colored, individual kneeling cushions, left there by parishioners who will be coming back to pray next Sunday, I'm sure. Stained-glass windows overlooked the altar, and let in slices of sunshine.
Michael and I stood in the same spot where my ancestors Marie and Hugh Dooley must have stood when they married. Three of their five children were christened here - the ornate baptismal font was still standing in the back of the church. It was very romantic, very humbling, and we felt blessed to be here. Even ol' Jackie Rae walked toward the back of the church, as if to let us alone with our present love and our ghosts of romances past.
Marie and Hugh Dooley immigrated to the United States five years after they married. Hugh, we think, went on ahead, and Marie is documented as travelling on the USS Constitution with her three young children (two more offspring were born in Brooklyn, NY) They started their life in Ireland, and came here for a better life.
We were happy to go back to where they started, as I am sure they were happy to come here for new opportunities. We feel as if we honored them, and their Irish eyes must have been smiling as we came home with a wonderful memory of feeling the past, loving each other in the present, and looking forward to our future. Sometimes only by looking back can we appreciate where we are headed.
Mary Malloy is a published writer, having written humorous, ongoing columns in local newspapers including The East Rockaway Observer,The Five Towns Forum, Nassau Tribune, Nassau Community Newspaper Group, & Long Island Woman periodical. She recently married her childhood sweetheart and is the mother of five children, ages 12 to 30 --and the grandmother of a lively toddler name Thomas. She experiences every day life by coping, juggling and living on (and loving) Long Island, New York and sharing the humor and the ironies of life with others.