I have always been interested in my family history, so when I retired in 1998, I took up the passion of genealogy research and spent several years exploring my family roots. It has been a most satisfying endeavor, and I have learned so much about my ancestry. On my mother’s side, there is a wealth of information, and I have found maternal family links going back many hundreds of years. However, there is much less information on my paternal heritage.
On my father’s side, all of my great-grandparents were born in Ireland, and they all immigrated to America in the years after the Great Potato Famine of the late 1840s. From a family tombstone in Weymouth, Mass., I was able to discover that my great-grandfather, John O’Halloran, was born in the townland of Clogheen, County Tipperary, Ireland. Following up on that information, I contacted a genealogist in Clogheen, Ed O’Riordan, who kindly helped my with my research. He was able to uncover dates and places for me, including the fact that my great-great grandparents were married in Clogheen in 1825. Before then, the ancestral trail gets murkier, as parish records were somewhat fragmented and incomplete in Ireland, especially before the early 1800s.
I was fascinated by this ancestral history. What happened to these people during the terrible times of the Famine? What was Clogheen like back then? How desperate had they become for them all to leave their homeland and head off to an unknown life on another continent? I tried to imagine the hardships they must have endured and the courage they showed to start anew and face the unknown. I wanted to know more.
In 2000, I was able to satisfy a life-long dream as Gretchen and I took a vacation to visit the “Auld Sod” for the first time. I was so excited! High on my list was to visit my ancestral home in the townland of Clogheen. My researcher friend, Ed, was going to meet us when we arrived to give us a tour and fill me in with some historical facts. He told us that we should approach Clogheen from County Waterford in the south up through the Knockmealdown mountains through the “Vee Gap”, which overlooks County Tipperary and the town of Clogheen, because of the spectacular view.
We rented a car after arriving in Shannon. First we visited the scenic Cliffs of Moher, enjoyed traditional Irish music in Doolin, and by luck, I was able to experience a memorable round of golf at the famous Lahinch Golf Club. Then we headed off towards Clogheen. Our journey took us into Co. Cork and Blarney Castle where, yes, I kissed the Blarney Stone. Gretchen refused to, because she had heard that people piss on it regularly. I didn’t believe that, but I would have kissed it anyway. After all, I’m Irish.
Then came the approach to Clogheen. We drove into Co. Waterford past the Lismore Castle and up the winding road into the Knockmealdown Mountains. It was late afternoon, and I was hoping that the sun would stay out to give us a good view as we arrived. The narrow road twisted and turned as it clawed its way up the mountain. Finally we reached what was surely our destination: the Vee Gap. At the pass through the peak of the mountain, the hills rose from either side of the road in the shape of a perfect V. This was the place!
I pulled over and we got of the car. As I walked to the crest, a spectacular tableau unfolded in front of me. The sun was streaming through the scattered clouds, dappling the oh-so-green valley below with shafts of golden light. It took my breath away. I don’t remember ever seeing anything so beautiful. And there, nestled at the base of the mountain, was the village of Clogheen. As I looked down at my ancestral homeland, I was overwhelmed. I stood there for many minutes, transfixed, tears streaming down my face. I don’t know how to explain my emotions, but I felt that I was meant to be there, that somehow I had come home. The surreal beauty of that scene will stay in my memory forever.
Two years later, we had the pleasure of going back to Ireland again, this time with my brother, Terry, and his girlfriend, Sherry (now his wife). It was his first trip to Ireland, and I wanted desperately to share the experience of my previous visit to Clogheen with him. I arranged for us to drive there by the same route at around the same time of day. I was really anxious, as it was cloudy that day, and I was afraid that it would be disappointing. I kept peering nervously at the sky as we made our way up the sinuous road through the Knockmealdowns.
We arrived at the Vee Gap and parked the car. Holding my breath, I walked with Terry up to the crest. Oh my God! If anything, it was even more beautiful than the first time. The clouds had parted, and again, the sun was brilliantly showing off the incredible beauty of the farms and fields of the Co. Tipperary valley below that our ancestors had tilled so many years ago. We stood in silence with our arms around each other, and more tears flowed. This time, we had both come home.