I snapped this photo in 1980. Back then, Angela’s Ashes hadn’t been written. Little did I ponder the poverty that my ancestors may have encountered, much as the characters of Frank McCourt’s novel.
When I snapped this photo, I did not give a thought to visiting the ancestors’ graves in the old sod. Nor did I know that I had relatives still living there.
Thanks to Ancestry.com and a cousin’s research and visits to Ireland, we now have records which show that our great-great grandfather was an expert stone mason who had built his house of stone.
But the property itself was owned by the British Crown. He was a tenant who built and farmed the land but did not own it. And so he sailed to America with his wife and children on The Brilliant in 1850.
Flash forward to 1980. I am a young lass. In college, I’d read James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and I had this romantic idea that I would find myself in Ireland.
Who was I fooling? What I really wanted was to sit in a cozy pub and people-watch. Perhaps I’d meet a handsome Irish lad, maybe even a Leprechaun.
I visited Glendalough, the Ring of Kerry, Wexford, Dublin. Road on country roads past patchwork quilt pastures dotted with gorse and cozy cottages. I viewed the magnificent Book of Kells. Tippled Guinness.
But I did not tipple with an Irish lad nor a Leprechaun.
Nor did I meet my Irish relatives nor see my ancestors’ graves.
And so, this short poem is in honor of them ~
Ancestors claw soggy sod with bare hands,
turn over blackened spuds.
Their larders are bare.
Their mouths mumble prayer.