10 February 2007

My Paternal Heritage

I have been watching an anniversary special of "Riverdance". Oh, how that music touches my soul. I have Irish heritage but never knew it until I was in my 30s. I had always been attracted to Ireland and all things Irish.

I can remember the first time I came across Irish dancing. I was about seven or eight years of age and I had a little friend home to play after school. She used to learn dancing and would teach me the steps she had learnt. I loved it and desperately wanted to take lessons, but my parents said no. I didn't understand why I couldn't have dancing lessons, it was just no and that was it. Of course, when I was an adult I realised we didn't have the money for things like that...my father was a gambler and it took my mother every ounce of her ingenuity to keep food on the table.

As I grew older, I was attracted to anything Irish (even Irish jokes!) and yearned to visit that country. I collected Belleek, the fragile porcelain that was made in County Fermanough. I read as much as I could and in doing so, became closer to my roots without realising it.

One day, my father's cousin, who had a keen interest in genealogy told me what he'd discovered about my father's side of the family. My surname, which I had hated at school because of all the uncomplimentary rhymes kids made about it, was actually an old Irish name. In fact there was a river that bore my maiden name. One of our ancestors was a boat builder in Dublin and built a ship named the Hawk which was sailed to New Zealand and landed north of Auckland. The place where he landed grew prosperous from boat building and was actually named after him until later on when it reverted to its Maori name. Also, because of this article I found some relatives in the small country town I was living in at the time.

In the 1970s there was an item in the national paper about some people who had renovated a ship called the Hawk and sailed her back to Dublin, her original home. In the article it mentioned my forebear...I was very proud to be associated with this small piece of New Zealand history.

I love the St Patrick's Day parade and I have an amusing story about that. I took my middle grand-daughter, Gabrielle, to the St Patrick's Day parade about five years ago. We were watching the floats and marching bands and I got talking to this lady standing next to me, who was visiting Australia from Ireland. She had the most beautiful accent. Anyway, she asked me if I was Irish and I explained, yes, but from a long way back.

"Oh, where do your people come from?" was the next question.

"Dublin," I answered.

"And have you been home?"

"No," I replied, "but I-" and was interrupted with,

"Oh, Jaysus! You haven't been home!" Then she turned to Gabrielle and said,

"Get your mam and family to get some money together and send your nan home to Dublin!"

I nearly choked and poor Gabbie just looked totally confused. It actually tickled me and gave me a lift for the rest of the day. This lovely Irish lady was obviously so proud of her country and just took it for granted that descendants would naturally want to go "home".

Of course, one of my dreams is to one day visit Ireland and find out the rest of my heritage, which may be difficult. My uncle came to a halt because records after a certain time didn't seem to exist. But during the Black and Tan uprising, when a lot of the records were held in the local Church, there was a lot of burning and records of births, deaths and marriages were destroyed.

My uncle managed to research back to Dublin in the late 1800s, but unfortunately died before he could find out any more. So, one day, I shall get to Ireland and continue his research into our Irish family tree.

I have got a little way though without leaving Australia. There is an Irish shop in the city which has a huge book with all the old Irish names in it. One day, during one of my visits to this store, I looked up my name and found we actually had a coat of arms, so I bought a keyring with this coat of arms and I have my car and house keys on it. It's a proud reminder of my heritage and the fact that my surname is a very respected name in Ireland.


Peter said...

Be Jaysus Robyn, you'll have to go home to Dublin, I'm Dublin up with laughter here... uummm... sorry.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

For those of us with Irish blood, there is always the call to return to the Emerald Isle. Perhaps some day I'll make it.

Gattina said...

How interesting ! My best friend in England is actually Irish, but had married an english. I spent a week last year with her at the english coast where she lives and I can tell you, she is Irish from top to bottom ! With such a biiiiiggg heart ! Many things in her house is from Irish origin and they go at least twice a year visiting the family near Dublin. She always tells me that the Irish girls are the best (with a wink to her husband) and I should present an Irish girl to our son, lol !
She is such a wonderful woman and makes everybody very comfortable. When I think of her, I get homesick ! What's your surname ?

PEA said...

This was such an interesting read, Robyn! I found out a few years ago that I also have some Irish blood in me, on my mom's side. I haven't been able to find too much about it though. I just know how excited you were with every little link you found out about!! I have a cousin who has been working on the family tree (her father is my mom's brother) so next time I see her I will have to ask her about the Irish ancestors!!! Hugs xox

Kentucky Gal said...

I live about 15 miles away from "Dublin" Ohio...a very Irish burg...the downtown is done up to look old and Irish...they take being Irish serious around here...so pass some green ale friend and cheers to YOU!!

Granny said...

I have some Irish - enough to love the music.

I'd love to get there someday.

Puss-in-Boots said...

Peter: Good pun (fun?). Actually I had made an error with the dates and snuck in just before and corrected it. I wonder if anyone noticed...

Nick: I'm determined to go to Ireland, not sure when, though.

Gattina: My maiden name is on my email. Ah, yes. Maybe you should introduce your son to an Irish girl!

Pea: I think, no matter how little Irish we can claim, we're all Irish on St Patrick's Day. I know I am.

Tammy: I don't know about green ale, the colour puts me off. I'll stick to Guinness, thanks. Slainte!

Ann: Oh, yes, the music brings out every little drop of Irish anyone possess, whether they know it or not.

Lee said...

I watched the show again last night, too, Robyn. I'm always intrigued by Michael Flately...he was wonderful. Had the wonderful arrogance and brilliance in his dancing as did Nurevey. That lead dancer who always was his partner in the original 'Riverdance', the lass with the red hair is so much like my mother was at that age..it's incredible. I always see my mother in Moira Shearer, too...the ballerina in 'The Red Shoes". Mum had brilliant auburn hair, and my grandmother, Mum's mother had rich chestnut-coloured hair when she was young. I come from both Irish and Scottish stock. My grandfather and grandmother on my paternal side came out from Ireland, with my grandfather coming out here first, then going back to Ireland, marrying our grandmother and then return to Aus. to have their family...which included my father (not step-father). So, I'm pretty close on that side of the equation to the Irish. There was also some Irish in my maternal side...in my great-grandparents.

Mum was a good dancer and I was only thinking while watching the show last night of when she taught me some tap and highland dancing when I was little. I learned ballet for a short while, but similar to you, money was in short supply so that didn't last, although I did learn piano for five years. Can't play a note now!

Btw....my birth name, from my father, was 'Nicholson'.

Puss-in-Boots said...

Lee: Michael Flatley certainly did have a certain something...as you say, much like Nureyev. When the camera showed a close up of Michael Flatley, he always had this little smile playing around his mouth as if to say, "Damn, I'm good!"

That beautiful auburn colour is something you cannot get out of a bottle, no matter how hard you try. I have a grandson with hair that colour, beautiful clear skin and lovely grey eyes ringed with dark eyelashes...real Irish colouring, although his older sister and brother have the "black Irish" colouring. That lovely smooth skin, very dark hair and grey/blue eyes.

It was a great show, wasn't it? The music just speaks to one's soul, I feel.

Liz said...

As I'm reading this I am listening to a CD by Sammy Horner. I went to see him play last night (I'd never heard him before) and he was brilliant. He's Irish and his music is very Celtic. Some of it was 'worship' and some of it straightforward folk. If I can ever work out how to put music onmy blog, I'll do it! I love the pipes and drums. Can't keep still.

DellaB said...

long story - I was living in New Zealand with my then husband Ian Major, who came from Belfast, my mother was visiting with a friend who came from Dublin, name of Kath - one orange, one green - we met them at the airport, and of course, mum had been telling Kath that my husband was 'also' Irish, says Kath to Ian:
"and where is it your from then?"

Ian replies: "from Belfast.."

says Kath:
"Oh, well, that doesn't matter at all!"

We spent a lot of time with Ian's family (his sister's family) after we came to Australia, the family were farming almonds in South Australia, we had some very good times.

Now Noel wants to go and visit his ancestors in Scotland - I can only go if he is shouting...