Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Family Education


            I can’t yet remember all their names. Give me some more time and I will. But my, I am glad I met them.
            During our Spring Break this past week, my parents brought my daughters, my wife and me to Ireland for a week. Most of the trip consisted of sightseeing, from Dublin, Galway and Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway, Cliffs of Moher and Dingle Peninsula. But toward the end of our trip, we gathered in a pub in Castlewellan, just outside Newcastle in Northern Ireland’s County Down. Greeting us were some 30 members of our family – people my dad had connected with in researching his family tree.
            He’d been at this for a while, and my parents had met several of these relatives before. My dad’s cousin Arthur, who lives in the U.S., has been his partner in research. They’ve shared family information, photos and discoveries. Several years ago, my parents had visited the Hynes homestead, grave site and stained-glass window, as well as the quarry where my dad’s grandfather, John Hynes, worked before emigrating from Ireland and becoming a well-respected granite worker in Brooklyn. But now, my dad was introducing these relatives to his own son and granddaughters.
            And they taught me so much in one night. From Thomas, I learned that it now costs more to sheer a sheep than it pays to sell the wool, so the family’s farming business now focuses on raising lambs to sell for meat. From Martin, I learned that the farm is a side job for most in Ireland, as it typically doesn’t pay enough on its own. From Peadar, who teaches Irish language classes and coaches Gaelic football, I learned that his secondary school doesn’t allow any smartphones or tablets in class.
            From Kathleen and Malachy, I learned how much life has improved in Belfast over the past two decades, as years of sectarian violence have given way to a booming tourism scene. From Mary, I learned that anniversary masses play a major role in many Irish families, as a means of honoring those who have died. And from young Odhr├ín, I learned a new nickname for our family, as seen on the back of his Gaelic football jersey: “Hynesey.”
            My dad was two generations removed from his ancestor who left Ireland. Now, the two generations following my dad have connected with those roots, just as he has. I’m a mutt whose ancestors emigrated from various European countries. I had met a couple of relatives from Iceland 40 years ago, and that’s been it. But now my older daughter is following her Irish cousin on Instagram, and I’m in a Hynes family Facebook message group.
            There are, of course, plenty of family members here in the U.S. whom I know and love, yet have not seen nearly enough of lately. In our ever-hectic lives, extended family members often find ourselves promising to get together more often than actually doing it. Then, someone passes and we see one another, wishing it were under better circumstances. The Hynes family members in Ireland expressed similar sentiments.
            But be that as it may, it was truly a special night. They walked into the pub, shook our hands, and introduced themselves. Family. Now I’ve met them. Not a bad education for one Spring Break. Thanks, Dad.