American nurse Marie Hall made an emotional journey to Ireland to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary and to trace her Irish roots. This is her story, in which describes how much her Irish ancestry means to her and what it was like to find her ancestral home.
I was always aware of my Irish ancestry. From infancy, my grandmother would sing the Irish Lullaby to us and tell us of her mother’s journey to the US from Ireland.
When my grandmother died in 1986, I felt there was a lost connection. She was no longer there to tell stories, the stories I now wish I had paid more attention to. The only way I could get that connection back was to start researching my ancestors.
I have known since I was a small girl that my great-grandmother and her sister had immigrated to the Boston area from Ireland. They left behind parents and a younger sister. I knew my great-grandmother had planned to return to Ireland to be the village nurse.
The story is, she was returning to Ireland and had booked passage for herself and her daughter, my grandmother, on the Lusitania. Prior to departure my grandmother’s cousin sustained a horrific burn. My gr-grandmother decided to stay in the US and nurse her back to health. They never made the trip and so avoided the tragedy of the ship sinking.
My great-great-grandparents were unaware of the change in plans and my g-g-grandfather left the village and set out to see if they had survived the trip. He was frantic!
My gr-grandmother and her daughter (my grandmother) stayed in the Boston MA area, where my gr-grandmother died in March of 1941.
I finally had a starting point
Initially, my search to trace my ancestors was sporadic as the surname KELLY in Ireland is as about as common as SMITH in the US. Among my family members there was some information known, but not really enough to start searching. We knew the names of my great-great-grandparents and that they had lived in Ireland. We also knew my gr-gr-grandfather was a tailor. I joined ancestry.com and started looking, although not very successfully.
A cousin hearing of my interest, sent me some information she had in her possession. Included was a picture of my gr-gr-grandparents, Thomas and Rose (Kinlan) Kelly and their daughter Annie, taken in Athlone around 1910. I finally had a starting point. The 1901 and 1911 census reports, confirmed I had found the “right” Kelly family.
I was aware the village of Brideswell had an annual festival in July. On June 4, 2014 I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org asking about the festival. My email was forwarded to a member of the festival committee who wrote to me saying “we would love to do something on your ancestors if you are interested”.
In 2014, my husband and I made a trip to Ireland for our 40th wedding anniversary. The trip was centred on the annual festival at Brideswell. I was communicating with a member of the planning committee. He seemed genuinely interested in my ancestors. I told him what I knew, not much.
I was speechless and in tears
Upon our arrival to Brideswell, we were met by two members of the festival committee. Armed with an old map, one of the gentlemen from the village escorted us out to a field where my g-grandmother’s home had stood.
All that was left was a slight depression in the landscape and remnants of a rock wall. I was in tears, this is where my g-grandmother had lived over a 100 years ago! After Mass on Sunday, a lovely young woman named Grainne read the genealogy information she had been able to gather.
I was speechless and in tears! So kind and generous were the people of Brideswell!
It is not known when or why my ancestors left Brideswell or where they had gone. I have a copy of a picture taken of my g-g-grandparents and their daughter Annie in Athlone in 1910. And that is where the trail goes cold.
I was immediately in love with the island
At the outset, I knew I would not find family or grave sites. But the trip was absolutely worth it! To stand on the land where my g-grandmother had played as a child, to stand at the same baptismal font that had been used when she was baptized and to walk through her village as she once had…was all worth it!
I was incredibly excited to land in Ireland and fulfil not only a long-time dream of my own, but also of my gr-grandmother and grandmother. I was immediately in love with the island, the people and the history! I would love to return. We have talked of possibly returning after we retire! We were in Ireland only 9 days and our agenda was as full as it could be. There was so much we didn’t see and didn’t do!
I am married with 2 grown children and 5 grandchildren. At the age of 30 I decided to pursue a nursing education. My grandmother was so happy and would remind me over and over that her mother, my gr-grandmother had been a nurse.
My grandmother was present at my graduation/pinning ceremony, beaming. She was nearly blind and I don’t think she could see me but, beaming just the same. My nursing license arrived in the mail 3 months later…on the day of my grandmother’s funeral. I choose to believe it came from Heaven, from my grandmother and my great-grandmother. It could have come the day before of the day after…but it came that day.
My Irish heritage means the world to me. I am a mix of other nationalities as well… and the Irish blood is pretty diluted by now, but I hang on to the fact that it is there and I am IRISH.
Tell us what your Irish heritage means to you
Read more stories of people tracing their Irish ancestryJudith Fell, third generation Irish Australian. Dave Fleming - Canadian writer remembers childhood holidays in Ireland. Marie Hall, American nurse in search of her Irish roots. Bill Hughes, Baltimore actor traces his DNA ancestry.