Before I took the Ancestry DNA test, my parents and I always thought my mother’s side of the family was through and through Scottish with a hint of distant Irish. Turns out, it was the exact opposite, entirely Irish with a wee bit of Scottish more recently. So, the homeland is Ireland, a place my mom and I had both been anxious to travel to, having been to Scotland together twice already. This was an even more special trip because it was our first mother-daughter trip, outside of the occasional spa visit or when she would visit me in DC. Granted, a family vacation for us would have only added one more member, my dad, but it was different than the trips we had all taken together. My mom is my best friend, and any trip you get to take with your best friend is the best experience you can ask for.
My maternal grandfather passed away only months prior, and we knew he had always wanted us to go. Towards the end, he started telling us more about where we were from, especially since I had received some specific information from the DNA test. We had learned we are from Ulster County, a city called Donegal, which Grandpa had mentioned before I had even told him the results of the test. From the moment we arrived in Dublin, we knew we belonged. That was solidified by all the pubs bearing our ancestral surnames.
We spent almost two weeks on a coach bus touring the country with a group of fellow travelers, starting in the capitol city. We made our way south through the Wicklow Mountains to Waterford, where we learned all about the famed glass blowing of the city. This trip happened to overlap with Mother’s Day, which we spent in Killlarney, a picturesque Irish countryside town. Northbound, we headed towards Limerick, taking a ferry to Shannon and onwards to Galway, with a pitstop at the Cliffs of Moher. We were lucky, the weather was mild and sunny, a rare day for coastal Ireland, but this meant we could walk along the pathway on the cliffs edge.
From Galway, we traveled through our ancestral Ulster County to Derry/Londonderry. This was a fascinating experience, since the name is and endless debate between the unionists and nationalists. I think a lot of us forget that Ireland has been at war with itself for over 100 years. It’s also the site of Bloody Sunday, the deadliest day of the decades now named The Troubles (and the backdrop to one of my favorite shows Derry Girls). We took a walking tour of the old city, and drove through the residential areas to view the famous murals of the city. We also stopped at the Giant’s Causeway, which has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. The Irish have this way with fantasy and storytelling. It is said that a young man threw stones in to the water so he could travel to Scotland to destroy a giant that had been threatening Ireland. Unfortunately, the giant used this “causeway” to come to Ireland, but was scared off by being convinced our young hero was actually a baby, causing the giant to fear the father of this child. I like that story a lot more than “science did it.”
From here, we went to Belfast, just for the Titanic museum, but the tour guide said if we all arrived back at the bus promptly, he would drive us through the city. It’s too dangerous for a bunch of American tourists to roam around, even our Irish tour guide, from Tipperary in the south, said his accent would get him kicked out of any pub in the wring part of town. As we drove around, it was hard to believe that the fighting was still going on, though much more mild than in the past. We approached a long stretch of concrete wall that was covered in graffiti, across the street from an old parking lot that had stacks of palettes. The wall is called a peacewall, meant to sperate the unionist (Protestant) and republican (Catholic) neighborhoods. We were told the palettes were being collected for a July holiday, in which unionists celebrate the victory of Protestant William of Orange over Catholic James II in 1688, during the Glorious Revolution. We were allowed to depart the bus briefly to add our names to the peacewall, but I still can’t get past the fact that the Northern Irish are still battling each other internally, to the point where it was too risky to allow us to really see the city.
From Belfast we wound our way back to Dublin, taking in a dinner on the beach with a local music and dance show. We arrived back home three years ago to the day as of this writing, and not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for that shared experience with my mom. These memories will last forever, especially sharing a Guinness at the top of the brewery ;-). I am so lucky that I was able to travel to the homeland with my mom, and I hope we get to do something like that again. I wish we had spent more time in each location, but we both say it’s just a good excuse to go back (soon!).