Céad Míle Fáilte from County Kerry this morning – I’m writing to you from a place known as the “Homestead of the Rocks” – or Ballinskelligs as it is more usually known. The “rocks” in question are the wonderful and unique Skellig Rocks off the coast of County Kerry. Maybe you’ve been here?
Looking out the window of my hostel – I can see Ballinskelligs Priory just ahead of the sea. This was the priory that the monks on Skellig Michael occupied once they finally abandoned their beehive huts in the 1100s.
Amazing to have so many layers of history open out before your eyes! We’re “doing” the Ring of Kerry on the Wild Atlantic Way at the moment – travelling from Kenmare to Sneem to Caherdaniel to Waterville to Ballinskelligs to Valentia to Cahirciveen to Glenbeigh to Killorglin (phew!) – and I look forward to sharing pictures and more on a blog post later this week (you can catch up on our previous legs here) .
I’m sitting here with a cup of Lyons tea – why don’t you have a cup of whatever you fancy and join me for today’s letter?
As we drive around the Ring of Kerry we come across so many tour buses (it’s that time of year!). We stop in the same places, hear mostly American accents and have a chat or two. It becomes clear that many people are here not just for the wonderful scenery – but hope to feel a stronger connection to the places, sounds and people that surrounded their ancestors. We also come across independent travelers who are on hopeful missions to connect with living cousins, uncover forgotten homesteads or to uncover the solid evidence of ancestral headstones in half-forgotten graveyards.
I am sure that a someone wise once said “what makes us human is the need to connect”.
These chats remind me of so many online conversations from the past year. So many great questions, stories and anecdotes. However, given that I live in Ireland – there is one particular flavour of question I hear quite a lot. Let me explain a little more.
Over in our member’s forum – The Green Room – we aim to help our readers to solve connection problems in a practical manner. I have noticed that a certain type of conversation comes up from time to time (maybe it’s familiar to you too?) Here is a question from one of our members – he talked about his aim to connect with living Irish cousins:
I am also aware of the fact that not every person (Irish or otherwise) is keen on being excited that they are related to someone outside of their country, let alone to be contacted or even visited by such a relative. My point is, I would be ecstatic to reach a relation in Ireland, but I wouldn’t want to come to be seen as that creepy cousin that invites himself to family functions and thrusts his company into the lives of those who previously didn’t know he existed.
A very good friend of mine, who embraces his Italian heritage, recently had a holiday in Rome. There, after brief conversation with some locals, he was essentially welcomed as a long lost brother, immediately welcomed into the arms of Italy. Would just such a situation be seen as such a big deal in Ireland?
What a good question! Here is how I answered:
I think you are touching on something that is very obvious to all who attempt to reconnect with their Irish cousins – and it gives good reason to understand the Irish psyche a little better.
I recently read the following in a Lonely planet Ireland guide on Etiquette:
“Conversation is generally friendly but often reserved, the Irish avoid conversations that might embarrass. They are deeply mistrustful of oversharers.”
I think a lot of Irish people would nod when they hear that. It is a good rule of thumb for those from north America to pretend that the Irish they meet are about a generation older than they look.
On the other hand – it is hardwired into our DNA to be as friendly and welcoming as possible. In Brehon law – one of the most grevious offences (with serious consequences on your honour) was to offer an inappropriate level of welcome and shelter to those who requested it. This surface (and genuine) friendliness – yet simultaneous reservation can be confusing to some.
Everybody’s experience is different – but I think it is always good to persist with an open mind, a welcoming heart, no preconceptions and no expectation! Who knows what wonderful – and unexpected – connections you may make!” What about you? I’d love to hear your stories and insights. What are your hopes and experiences in connecting with your Irish “cousins” ?
As always, see the comment section below if you have a question, to tell a story or just to say hello!
That’s it for now!
Slán, Mike… talk next week! : )
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