“You’re a Don-ah-hue ?” said with puzzlement, like I had just proclaimed that I was a dolphin.
“Oh! You mean, you’re an ‘Oh-dawn-ah-hoo!’” A pause and gulp, the pint hitting the bar with strong affirmation of the clarity gained. Others nodded now in understanding, my maternal family name with the right accent.
“Ahh, you’re Bridget and Sean’s family, you’re meaning then?!”
“Well geez, you’ve just missed them!”
The positivity of his tone, filling me with hope to finally make this long lost family connection in the motherland…. He took a big gulp of a his midday cider at the local pub, which if you’ve been around enough in Ireland you know is where you go to find anything out. He paused and looked up
“They’ve been buried only going on one year now.
The one followed the other. Too good for this world they were, too good.”
Another collective swallow of their pints and a pause, not without true sympathy and a kind thought. And so they pulled me a pint and a seat at the bar.
And that was how I arrived in the town of my great grandfather, in County Kerry Ireland. It shall remain unnamed since it is still magically perfectly untarnished. It reminded me unnervingly of my childhood sleepy beach home town which my grandfather had chosen, though he had never seen his father’s village, it’s mirror. And the people were not at all jaded by all the American cousins 'returning home.' Five years later, when another American cousin, who I know well, made his way to that town, and the pub of course, to ask about the 'Don-ah-hue' family, I'm told that much to his shock, a handful of people turned from the bar to ask if he knew 'Julianne of Boston,' as she was also of this town. Years later it warmed my heart deeply.
I had worked that summer at a horse farm in County Cork, something that no doubt would have appalled my proud great grandfather who left his homeland to escape such work and made such a living by hard work in America he left each of his children a 3 family home outside of Boston.
It took many days in the archives in Dublin, reading through barely legible stained pages of Latin cursive written by the village priests and then some serious deciphering, to determine which town was home to my great grandfather Christopher Donahue. And as the Irish humor will have it he traveled all the way to America, to meet and marry a women who had lived one town away, over the green hill, in Ireland.
After getting situated in town I returned to the bar with romantic plans of walking through this town of my roots, with gravitas to find more of myself.Instead, I was taken into the fold, gotten fairly drunk, and with a great deal of enthusiastic company we headed down to the beach, to cross the broad strand at low tide and the cemetery in the ruined abbey. I had planned to do with respect, and I must have muttered out loud because our pilgrimage was immediately diverted to a pub by the beach for a pint, to show respect.
Another pint downed for respect, I tottered to the cemetery looking blurrily at tomb stones in the moonlight, which are worn heavily by the stormy sea air that howls in off the Atlantic. Many stones were not marked beyond the family name. This was often at the request of the deceased-they were known to those who needed to know, and too humble to need to be known beyond.
It was not how I had planned it in my mind, but it was beautiful, crazy, silly and kind of poetic, and I think utterly right. Sean and Bridget did not want their stones marked, did not feel people should mourn. My earnest thoughts would have been out of place on the wild island in the glowing moonlight, too limited. I had found where Christopher was from, and as I headed back up to the village with my company I was still not sure who my family had been, but I was pretty sure that it did not matter, I was welcome and alive in the present moment.
And there the circle neatly seemed to close itself, the trip a simple nod to the life I had been living all along. Alive and present, as I adventured through the world, open to wherever life led me. I had been living the spirit of this village, the family perhaps, all along, part of the ongoing song. Much like my family home in America had stunningly beautiful echoes of its Irish predecessor, I might too.
And so another round came down the bar, and the night carried on in conversation and friendship.