“We survive. We’re Irish. We have the souls of poets. We love our misery, we delight in the beauty of strange places and dark places in our hearts.”
– Ellis Flynn, Wear Black
Having finished posting about the first leg of my adventures in Ireland I’m feeling rather contemplative re: what it meant to me visiting the homeland of two of my family lines. Working on all this genealogy lately I’ve been struck, all over again, by the interconnectedness between us all.
Amazingly, tracing back relations by direct lineage and marriage I was able to hit upon a vein ripe with English and Scottish nobility, which sideswiped me. We all want to say we’re related to historical figures and what I found far exceeded that. I’m descended from a governor of the Virginia Colony. The generation before him were nobility from Wales, a fact that pleased my Wales-loving daughter to no end. Because of him, it doesn’t stop there but rather branches out through Europe and back as far as the Middle Ages, because nobility had the advantage of record keeping the poorer didn’t share.
My reaction to all this was, at first, laughter. The generations I know from both sides of my family are not rich nor, on one side, particularly well-educated. They’ve lived in poverty as far back as I’d ever known, farming cotton, barely scraping. So, how does a family of noble origin sink so low? The Civil War, maybe. It knocked the legs out from under entire generations of Americans; it was the great equalizer. The South still has not recovered economically and won’t in my lifetime, nor in my childrens’. It may never climb back to its pre-war economy. There’s justice in that, in one way. An economy built on the backs of slavery has no honor, yet I believe in the right of redemption. So many generations later, I wish things could turn around for them. Sadly, circumstances are stacked against them.
Visiting Ireland the the UK, not realizing I had Welsh ancestry at the time, brings a lot home to me. I identify strongly with the Irish part of my ancestry, you may have noticed. Not only did the red hair and blue eyes come down the line but the sense of humor and a few cultural bits, as well.
I loved Ireland before I saw it and being there cemented my feelings. It’s not just the beauty, which is stunning, but the people I connected with and fell in love with. They’re a kind people, quick to help, expecting nothing in return. They saved me great trouble many, many times. In particular, I will never forget the employee of Irish Ferries who saw me sitting out front of the building at Rosslare, knowing I wouldn’t see a bus or taxi for hours. He walked up to me quickly and with purpose, asked where I needed to go – in this case, Dublin – grabbed my suitcase and led me to the train station, which wasn’t terribly far but was the most hidden station I’ve ever seen – honestly, what were they thinking? He took my luggage onto the train for me, set it on a seat, then disappeared as I was thanking him profusely, almost crying in relief. It was as if my thanking him was an embarrassment; he didn’t help me to impress but out of human kindness.
I ask myself if an American in the same position would have helped me like that and feel ashamed of the answer. If someone newly arrived here, feeling desolate and unwelcome, deserted and even a bit frightened, would be visited by an American guardian angel. Of sorts, I mean. I don’t believe in angels, nor in a God, but after my trip my faith in human kindness has been renewed. Created, actually. I didn’t much believe in it before but there is no denying the Irish and Welsh people are, in general, more kind than your average American, with exceptions of course.
No wonder I felt such joy visiting, torn apart upon leaving. Whether I get there again or not, I have the knowledge some of my people came from that land of empathy and indescribable beauty.
Forever, I will be thankful for that, more than I’ll ever feel pride in my distant noble ancestry. Because the milk of human kindness is the one thing truly without price.