Friday, December 19, 2008

Our Time In Ireland

This blog chronicles our visit to Rosscarbery, Ireland in December, 2008, by four Iowans.

Part pilgrimage, part pure escape, the stay ended up exceeding our wildest expectations. The credit for this goes to good people of Rosscarbery.

They were beyond kind. Witty, generous and helpful, they embroidered moment after moment with good cheer. For seven days, they were fast friends to four Americans who had pressed themselves like iron-on patches to the social fabric of the community.

In the days leading up to our departure to Ireland, we would tell friends the trip was months in the making. Perhaps it was more than that.

Yes, our conversations about going to Ireland began in the spring. But now that we’ve returned with so many memories to treasure, we could be convinced that maybe this trip was, in a spiritual sense, years in the making.

Rosscarbery is a scenic, unpretentious village with a gentle soul. Located on the southwest coast of County Cork within earshot of the sea, the community has a population of about 950 year-round residents. It is off the well-worn tourist track of foreigners and too often given short shrift by guide books.

Despite its low profile, Rosscarbery has an attraction that most other cities in Ireland cannot claim – a direct family connection to John, one of the four Iowans and the shooter of the photos below.

The tie goes back to Ellen Wolfe, who left Rosscarbery in the shadow of the 1840s potato famine with her husband William Hawks of nearby Bandon, Ireland. They settled in Iowa and so many decades later, John, one of their many descendants was back in the clan. With his wife, Heather, and their friends Carol and Tom, in tow, John kept the memory of his ancestors alive with church and heritage center visits.

Ireland is a place where the phrase “Cead Mile Failte!” (One hundred thousand welcomes!) is more than just a tourist board slogan. Reaching back thousands of years, it is a greeting that reflects the ageless yearning of our species to commune in a spirit of good nature.

From Nora Hubbert, the craft shop proprietor who was keeper of our apartment over looking Rosscarbery square, to the 9-year-old who beat us at a ring toss game in The Abbey Bar, everyone we encountered treated us as if they were sincerely happy we were there.

All this made leaving on Friday, Dec. 12, for the airport at Shannon a sad experience.

Today, it’s difficult to say whether the fondness in our hearts for this one small town in west County Cork is the result of an accident or spiritual design.

But this much is certain: Genealogical research years ago by John’s family paid off. It lit our way to Rosscarbery, making all of us richer for our time away.

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