Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Eight

Day Eight (9/21/18): Homecoming

You know it’s going to be an amazing day when you throw back the curtains in the morning and find yourself staring at a rainbow outside your bedroom window. This would prove to be the first of many rainbows that my brother and I came across during our day’s journey.

We started our first morning in Letterkenny with a hearty English breakfast at a nearby café; a heaping plate of sausages, bacon, baked beans, eggs on toast, and both black and white pudding. This was my introduction to this high-protein fare, and would forever set the standard for good breakfasts in my mind.

Sarah Diver (unknown date of photograph)

Our first non-culinary stop of the day was, believe it or not, another library. However, Tim and I had a specific goal in mind—genealogy research. Through previous searching, Tim discovered that some of our ancestors had lived in County Donegal, somewhere in the northern reaches of Ireland. He even managed to find the very plots of land that our ancestors rented. For a time, we camped out at the Central Library, and with the help of a couple of librarians, Tim and I tracked down some new information, particularly on that of our great-great grandfather Edward McLaughlin and his wife Sarah Diver. In addition, Tim uncovered information about the church that the two were married in.

And so, we recommenced our travels and drove north to the little town of Buncrana, where we paid a visit to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was still in operation. We had hoped to find someone there to guide us around the building and the vast graveyard surrounding it. However, we were alone, so we took our own tour. As you would expect, the church was beautiful with a mix of the traditional and contemporary in its style. So, I thought, this was the place where Great-Great Grandpa and Grandma McLaughlin tied the knot. There was a sense of belonging that crept over my brother and I as we stood, gazing down the church’s center aisle. Though in a different country and time, there was an almost mystical tie to this place.

We felt at home.

Our exploration of the graveyard proved to be less fruitful. Despite a helpful sign indicating who was buried where, we couldn’t track down any family members then known to us. As McLaughlin was a popular name in that region, every other plot in the cemetery resided an ex-person by that name. It would require further research, and most likely a future visit, or two.

Tim and I continued our northward journey until we reached a quiet tree-lined road in the midst of sweeping, hilly pastureland. On maps, the road was simply known as Hillside. We pulled off, and decided to walk down the remainder of the lane. Using maps found by Tim, we were able to pinpoint the plots of land where our ancestors had lived. Once again, there was that overwhelming sense of belonging and homecoming that came over us. No words of mine or pictures taken could truly do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape that surrounded us.

To the north loomed the reddish-brown mountains that separated us from the nearby ocean. The land to the south was a patchwork of green, hilly pastures, bordered with darker green hedgerows, trees, and dotted with grazing white sheep. Around the road that we walked, several small streams burbled their hypnotic song and several ruins of ancient stone cottages stood sentinel, a testament to a bygone era. Meanwhile, rain showers would periodically pass over head, dumping their load on us before moving off, to be replaced by blue skies and a number of large rainbows. There was such a dreamlike quality to our surroundings and I couldn’t imagine a place more beautiful. This was a place I could live in. Tim mused that life must have been pretty bad that would prompt our ancestors to uproot from this idyllic land to come to the New World.

We concluded our day’s touring, with a visit to Dunree Head, a beautiful outcrop of land jutting into the ocean. However, with what Tim and I had experienced that day, the view proved to be rather anticlimactic.

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