Family Stories of Ireland

By Brenda Buchanan

As we all know, the ability to spin a good tale is a valuable thing, especially when times are tough. In the late 19th century, when my maternal grandparents were children living on the impoverished west coast of Ireland, entertaining family and friends with stories must have been a critical survival skill.

This is Baile an Chotaigh on the Dingle Peninsula, the farm where my grandmother was raised. The white portion of the house and the detached one partially hidden by the trees are new.

Ellen Fenton was from County Kerry and John Kane was from Mayo, two beautiful places that were desperately poor at the turn of the twentieth century, having never recovered from the potato famine of 1845-52.

Born in 1881 and 1882, my grandparents emigrated separately on crowded ships bound for Boston in the early years of the twentieth century. They met in America, several years after their arrival. When they married in 1912, she was 31 and he was 30. They had six children in eleven years. My grandmother died of cancer in 1933, when my mother was twelve.

These are the old structures of the Baile an Chotaigh townland, where four families lived in 1901, shortly before my grandmother emigrated.

My mother told a lot of stories about my grandmother, and many about County Kerry, though Mom didn’t visit Ireland herself until her four kids were grown and educated. I made my first pilgrimage last week and am still spinning from the experience.

My grandmother must have been a skilled practitioner of the art of storytelling because with words alone she imbued in her daughter—and my mother in turn conveyed to me—a clear, abiding sense of a yet-to-be known place, which is the essence of what good storytellers do. It was my first visit, but from the moment we arrived I felt as though I’d been there a hundred times before.

I’ve been back in Maine for three days but my body is still on Ireland time, so this month I’ll content myself with posting photos from our trip. In June I’ll write about the storytelling culture in Ireland, a tradition that is thoroughly and wonderfully honored every single day.

A typical view of green fields sloping toward the sea.

 

This is the name of my family’s townland in Irish.

Spring was in full flourish, witness this garden in bloom.

This sandy beach, called the Ventry Strand, is about a mile down the road from Baile an Chotaigh.

An old grave marker in the Ventry burial ground.

The lovely views go on, and on and on . . .

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10 Responses to Family Stories of Ireland

  1. Great pics, Brenda! I’m anxious to hear all about your trip!

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  2. C.T. Collier says:

    You brought me right back to the Dingle, Brenda! My grandparents story is almost identical, except Grandma was the one from Mayo and Grandpa from Kerry. His home as a child is still standing and used as a barn, just a stone’s throw from the estuary of the Shannon in the tiny village of Asdee, not far from Listowel, Tarbert, and Ballybunion. Now you know why my publishing imprint is Adsee Press 🙂 May your Ireland memories live forever! –kate

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    • How interesting that our ancestry is so similar! We drove through Listowel but not Asdee. That entire area is gorgeous. My eyes could not get enough of the beauty. And Dingle is a fun town, isn’t it?

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  3. Wonderful pictures, Brenda. I can’t wait to hear the stories!

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  4. John R. Clark says:

    Wonderful photos of a place I very much want to see. Thank you for sharing them.

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  5. Beth Clark says:

    Stunning photos. It must have been a wonderful trip with much meaning. I am struck by the fact that in the storytelling, the description was so rich that when you got there, it felt like home. The power of words…

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  6. Joyce says:

    Glad you got to go. Looks like a great place

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  7. William C. Buchanan says:

    Hi Bren glad you had a good trip can’t wait to talk to you. The place is very diffacult to discribe with just words.
    Brother

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  8. Reine says:

    Brenda, this is beautiful and has my eyes all watery. My father’s side is Harringtons from Clonakilty and Troys from Dublin.

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