This week for #WeldonWednesdays I retraced some of my mom’s footsteps to one of her favorite parts of the country, the West. This is where most of my mom’s side of the family originates from, such as the Butlers in the Mayo and Longford areas, the O’Neills from Cork, the Smiths from Cavan, and the McMahons from Longford and Monoghan. There’s even more family roots than these, these names are just my direct ancestors.
In October 1987, when phone lines had just been installed in the area, my mom headed to Galway for the first time. This is where her family originally boarded famine ships back in the 1800s to escape the struggles that the Irish people faced at the time. She stayed in Salt Hill and visited Galway to see the Aran Islands and to visit the spot where John F Kennedy gave a famous speech to the people of Galway. She caught an old fishing boat over to the Aran Islands. Another tourist was on the boat with her, and he had been born on the main island. His family had left for America when he was a baby, and he was the last living person in his family. His grandparents were buried on the island and his parents were buried in Brooklyn. It was the first time a member of his family had returned to Ireland. My mom recalls, “We took a horse and buggy ride to the house where the man had been born sixty some years before. It was very emotional for him and it was an honor to share that experience with a stranger.”
Near Galway is a medieval town we visited called Athenry where the Anglo-Normans once lived. There are ruins scattered across the town of a castle, an abbey, and the old stone walls surrounding the area.
Athenry is also famous for the folk song about a man forced to go to the penal colony in Australia for stealing corn from his own fields to feed his children. This happened during one of the infamous famines that plagued the Irish countryside. There was enough food, but it was exported from Ireland for profits for the Crown and British tradesmen. Export companies made money while millions starved. Most famine ships left from the port in Galway. this was true of the Butlers and McMahons in my family. They said that the next parish from Galway was New York City. My mom tells me, “I spent some time praying for all those Irish who left along the beautiful quays of Galway. Some died enroute to New York, but my great-great Aunt Mary was born on the famine ship called the John Henry!” I never knew this detail until I talked to my mom about how my family came to North America on the famine ships. It’s crazy to think that a relative of mine was born on the way over. It really makes you think about just how different things were for these people who left their beautiful homelands with so little, desperate to make better lives for themselves. Stories like this make me really proud of my #IrishRoots!