Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ancestral Voices

Although it's almost over, Happy St. Patrick's Day, dear readers!

Since Irish blood runs through my veins, I've always had a deep interest in Ireland, the people, their music, literature. And their painful history.
Most of my ancestors came to this country much earlier, but a few came during the potato famine. And one of them was my great-great grandfather, James Michael Kane (Keane), of County Cork.
James Kane was in his early twenties when he arrived in America on June 13, 1849. He was a tall man, I've been told, with red hair, bright blue eyes and a booming voice. Two brothers came with him, but one returned to Ireland and the other stayed in New York City.
He never saw them or the rest of his family again.
I have often wished I could have been around to ask him questions. How did he feel when he first glimpsed America? Was he scared, excited? Did he feel out of place? How did he deal with the discrimination?
James Kane was a tailor and served in the King's Guard, but he became a stone mason after arriving in America. And in working around the country he ended up in Kentucky, where he met Elizabeth Kirby of Bowling Green (in this picture). They got married and eventually moved to Carlisle County, Kentucky, where they bought a farm and raised twelve children.
Those are the facts. But I wish I knew more, the thoughts, dreams of the man who refused to accept things as they were, the man who left his home country, everyone he loved, all that was familiar.
Did he miss his family, grieve for what he had known, what he had left behind? Did he see his mother's face in his dreams, weep for his family, familiar surroundings? His homeland?
Since childhood, my dream was to visit Ireland. And in 1997, Mother, Pitty and I were fortunate enough to do just that. We spent two weeks in London with my brother, Tony, and sister-in-law, Kim. And one weekend we flew to the Emerald Isle.
The minute my feet touched the ground, I felt I had come home. Everything seemed familiar...the landscapes, the houses, the stone on either side of the roads we traveled. And especially the Irish people. I saw myself and my family in their blue, green and hazel eyes, their reddish hair. Even their laughter was ours.
Every place we went, I wondered if my great-great grandfather had been there. I felt his presence all around us.
Or was it my imagination?
We had a wonderful time, staying in a lovely bed & breakfast, kissing the Blarney Stone, dining in little pubs. (Don't let anyone tell you the Irish don't serve delicious food; I know better!)
On the day we left the Emerald Isle, we breakfasted in a small restaurant near the airport, and as I gazed at the sea of smiling faces, Irish ballads drifting from the jukebox, I didn't want to leave. I was homesick. But how could I be homesick before I left? For a place I had never seen until a few days before?
Through me, lass. You're feeling it through me.


Suzanne said...

Lovely post.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Brenda, my paternal ancestors came from Ireland during the potato famine years and settled in Pennsylvania to be miners. I often wonder about them also. Sadly my grandfather died when my dad was only a baby, so there are very few records that remain to be searched.
I've visited Ireland a few times and I've felt the same as you. I feel a deep connection to the old sod.

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley