Friday morning we went on another group tour, this time in a large van to Wicklow, south of Dublin. I have a hard time staying awake as a passenger on a road trip and slept through about half of yesterday’s travels. I’m 42 going on 2, I guess. Our 70-year-old driver, John, spoke into a microphone, but even so, his not-quite-loud-enough voice and emotionless telling of endless trivia was like a lullaby. I took lots of pictures, not necessarily knowing exactly what I was seeing. I did find out that John is a professional genealogist, and he gave me his business card. I spent a few hours after dinner on the Ancestry.com website to which I purchased a subscription a few months ago. Laurel was interested in learning more about Wayne’s dad’s parents, and I hadn’t looked at the site since looking into that history. So…I e-mailed John and asked if he could help me find my dad’s mother’s Irish ancestors. The answer seems to be, Maybe. The family story is that dad’s mom, Marie (Casey) Serger, had ancestors named Jeremiah and Hanorah Casey who immigrated from County Cork, Ireland during the famine. My mom’s mom’s ancestors did the same, but Mom knew less about both her German and Irish ancestry than did Dad. According to the beautifully handwritten 1900 US census, Marie’s parents were Jerry and Lizzie, both born in Ohio. Were those their legal, baptismal names? Who knows. According to the 1870 census, Jerry (“Jerrey” in that census)’s parents were Jeremiah and Hannah, not Hanorah, both born in Ireland in 1820 and 1825 respectively. However, if I go back to the 1860 census, Jeremiah and Hannah are now Jery and Mary with Jery having a different year of birth (It was actually just age that was listed; I’m backtracking with year of birth.) than in the 1870 census. I think it’s the same people, but I’m not sure. They were illiterate, and Jeremiah was either a farmer or common laborer, depending on the census. One of the boxes that could be checked with just enough room for a one-word explanation, was whether the individual was deaf and dumb, blind, or idiotic. It’s not clear who made the assessment of idiocy. There’s a large, fancy tombstone next to the street in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lindenwald, our Hamilton neighborhood, with the names Jeremiah and Hanorah Casey. My parents, Amy and I visited our family’s tombs in three different Hamilton cemeteries every Memorial Day, and I never remember visiting that one. Also, I’m pretty sure illiterate, farming immigrants could not have afforded such a grand memorial. Also, they lived in Cincinnati, not Hamilton. Still, shortly before her death, for whatever reason, Mom was talking about that tombstone and said, “I always thought that was Charlie’s ancestors, but I recently found out that it’s not.” Jeremiah and Hanorah were apparently quite common names.
So back to the Wicklow tour…We were supposed to go on a 2-hour hike which was inexplicably shortened to one hour, and we were still 35 minutes late returning to Dublin in the evening. Our group of 14, not counting John – eight Americans in their early 20’s, three young French people, and us – split into three groups; one group toured the Powerscourt gardens, a group of four went horseback riding, and our group of six – counting John – hiked through new-growth and old-growth forests and saw mountain goats, including one-week-old babies! John said mountain goats are not native to Ireland but were brought here centuries ago. Deer are native but were hiding since hunting season recently ended. We stopped and smelled the coconut-scented flowers of the gorse bush which Irish farmers used to plant in addition to their food crops because of its many uses. We learned about holly, one of two, native, evergreen plants in Ireland, the other being a tree but I forgot what it was…some kind of pine. Holly bears its berries in the winter, thus the association with Christmas. Ancient peoples didn’t know about Vitamin C, but they knew they needed whatever was in the bitter-tasting berries to get them through the winter. They used to bake the holly’s berries into bread. We saw the Irish oak which is a symbol of the Irish people since it can survive in poor conditions that others cannot. We also saw where the British had developed a lead mine and smelting factory in order to make bullets. The operation continued for over a century but stopped as soon as the Irish won independence since they didn’t have the war-machine need that the British had. Under the British, children were sent to climb into the chimneys…I guess…to recover the very toxic but precious antimony which was used in making the bullets. Those children did not reach adulthood.
John then delivered us to a restaurant in Enniskerry for us to eat together, but half the group left to eat at another restaurant. Those that remained sat at different tables.
After lunch we drove and drove and drove. We did get out some but not enough. We saw the bridge from the movie PS I Love You. The kids and I were the only ones in the group who had never seen it (or heard of it before then). We also saw Guinness Lake and its lovely surroundings, owned by the Guinness family. There’s a beautiful home near the lake, and John told us about a huge, 21st birthday party held there in 1966, for a Guinness. The young man was a friend of members of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and the Beatles wrote the song “A Day in the Life” about the birthday boy’s death shortly thereafter. When John started out the story, he asked if we had heard of the Beatles. We were silent, assuming he was being funny. He asked three times until one of the young women finally said, “Yes!”
We drove to beautiful Glendalough Lake and walked around a few minutes and then to a monastic city started by St. Kevin in the Middle Ages. The builders of this monastery were excellent stone masons, and little improvement has been necessary to the tower and other structures over more than a millennium. (The cathedral’s roof is now gone, but the walls are in good shape.) John also talked about the Irish saving great works of Roman and Greek origin through transcription/copying by Irish monks. After the Germanic tribes sacked Rome and the libraries were destroyed and the Dark Ages had truly begun, Ireland was a beacon of hope and eventually started monasteries in mainland Europe bringing back some of Europe’s sacred treasures and traditions which had been kept safe from the Vandals. I remember learning that years ago when I read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I thought the book was going to be humorous because what do civilization and the Irish have to do with each other? Instead it was quite an enlightening read.
We also learned during yesterday’s drive that Ireland has the highest home ownership rate in the world at 80% because of the country’s collective memory of the famine and the horrors inflicted upon the sharecroppers/tenant farmers. John also said that the Irish greatly sympathize with any oppressed or starving peoples and donate more money for humanitarian aid than any other country in Europe.