I was lucky enough to take a trip to Ireland with my brother over our spring break, March 10–18. The two of us were not in charge of the itinerary, and our daily travel to churches, monasteries, and other tourist spots left little time for genealogy. Nonetheless, I tried to connect in person with a relative I knew was still there: Gerard O’Callaghan.
To get into the story, I will briefly explain my Irish roots:
My father’s grandmother was from Ireland. Her name was Margaret Drummy, and she was born in Ballincollig, County Cork, in November 1903. There was a more than 20 year age gap between her parents, William Drummy and Margaret Murley, and her father married twice, so she grew up with six full siblings and four older half-siblings. In October 1925, she left to join her aunt in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While in the Boston area, she would meet Peter F. McManus, whose parents were from Counties Fermanagh and Cavan. Their marriage would lead to my grandfather’s birth in 1932.
During his first trip to Ireland in the 1970s, my grandfather searched for and wrote a list of relatives that he hoped to find. And while in County Cork, he met a man around his age named Gerard O’Callaghan: Gerard, a resident of Ballincollig, turned out to be his second cousin. The two of them kept in contact, even introducing their families to one another. For example, my father met Gerard when his family drove down to Ballincollig in 1989, while on a trip for his brother’s wedding to a woman from County Fermanagh, and when my father was young, Gerard’s daughter stayed with the family for a week or two while she was visiting the United States as a student.
This trend continued for years, and in December 2002 I became part of the tradition, when my father accepted an offer to work in his company’s Dublin office. Our stay lasted almost four years, and a couple of times we drove to Ballincollig to see Gerard for Easter. I was almost 10 when we moved back to Massachusetts, but I always thought of returning to the Emerald Isle.
When my grandfather died suddenly in 2007, the family history was lost with him, as he never talked with me about his Irish genealogy. Moreover, his father and mother had died in 1959 and 1960, before his children were born, so they were not much help to me either. Although I was able to learn Margaret’s name, hometown, and approximate birth year and death year, I could not find much more through Ancestry.com about her life in Ireland. So I decided to send a letter to Gerard. He quickly replied with his email address and, to my delight, a copy of my grandfather’s original list! With the help of the list, I could finally add to my family tree.
When my grandfather died suddenly in 2007, the family history was lost with him…
My hope for this trip was to meet up with Gerard in the afternoon of March 12. The day before, I found out the specific time (4 to 6 pm) we would be in Blarney, County Cork, and texted Gerard with that information. I had suggested in an earlier email that we meet and talk at the Blarney Woolen Mills while the rest of our tour group shopped. Unfortunately, Gerard did not see my text. He looked for us until 4 pm, but we did not make it over to the Mills from Blarney Castle until 5:15. However, a cashier, who had tried to help him earlier, allowed my brother and me to use her phone, so we were able to chat for a few minutes.
The connection between Gerard and my grandfather is a perfect example of the importance of family, no matter the distance. Separated by thousands of miles of water, the U.S. and Ireland maintain a special relationship fueled by a common heritage and culture passed down by immigrants and their descendants. Often, when Irish Americans find a way to visit Ireland, the Irish offer a warm welcome and are happy to help track down family roots. Even in the presence of a stranger, asking questions can really pay off over there. It can lead to useful and sometimes surprising information!