A Letter from Ireland:
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Connecting With Your Irish Cousins

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.

Skellig Monks

The Skellig Monks

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?

Connecting With Your Irish Cousins.

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”.

Ballinskelligs

The McCarthy Castle, Ballinskelligs

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.

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Ms O’Connor and Ms McGillicuddy give us a tune in an old Kerry cottage.

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! : )

  • My Beggs ancestors came from Ballycarry, County Antrim. I recently found a listing with three or four Beggs living there today. I found myself all excited then reality set in. I am 72 years old, my great, great grandmother Elizabeth Beggs left Ireland in 1819 when she was three years old.Her Father was Thomas Beggs. I can document them from the day they arrived in America but have had no success finding documents in County Antrim. I would imagine the Beggs living there are very distant relatives but I would never impose even if it means my brick wall will remain intact. I am blessed to be a great great grandmother, at least he will have a photo of us together and will have a copy of my research.

  • I really enjoyed your writings on County Kerry and the accompanying photo. I hope to be there in the near future.
    Interesting explanation about the Irish qualities of friendliness combined with being reserved. Explains a few things I experienced on my last trip to Ireland and also in online/e-mail researching. It’s a good reminder for those of us researching our ancestors to be respectful.
    Jill

  • Cathy Hillman says:

    On my last trip to Ireland, as I drove through a small town (Cushendahl, Co. Antrim), I stopped to take photos. When I saw a gift shop, I went in and found a key chain with my mother’s maiden name (Spence) on it. I had never seen any before. I asked if there were any Spence families in the area, and found out that there were two. I would love to return to Cushendahl (sorry if I spelled it incorrectly) and try to connect with the families. But, I don’t know the best way to handle this. Any suggestions?

  • Sandy Kennedy LaFerriere says:

    We are and will always be of Irish descent . Proud and connected. ☘☘☘

  • Kevin Hunter says:

    My Mother came from County Donegal Moville and I recently went to Moville from Australia and found my cousins very welcoming. It was if we had only left yesterday. We were made very comfortable, It may have helped that my people were McLaughlin, Doherty and McGettigan and I seemed to be related to a lot of the people in the area. It confirmed my suspicion the the Irish are the friendliest people in the world.
    I did the DNA test which shows me to be 86% Irish. Cool! Kevin

    • Mike Collins says:

      Hard to avoid the O’Dohertys and McLaughlins on the Inishowen peninsula, Kevin – glad you had such a great time! Mike.

  • The thing that makes genealogy worth while is finding living relatives. Exchanging things about our lives gives me a great feeling of family and a connection. It warms my soul and makes my heart sing.

  • Liz Osborne says:

    Before my husband and I visited Ireland the first time, I did a lot of homework on my Irish relations. I put together soft-sided notebooks for each branch with copies of documents and pictures in plastic page protectors, as well as a family tree to share if I met any relatives. We met a local man who graciously provided some introductions. After making an appointment, we went to meet my relatives, bringing a small gift. My 3rd cousins were very polite, if a bit wary, but soon after we sat down and I shared my notebooks, they brought out the Paddies. We are still in frequent contact, fifteen years later.

  • johnathon says:

    Hi im trying to find my irish cousins my family from county of cork and I’m going out their this summer and i want to meet my long distance cousins

  • […] Many of our readers are concerned with how their Irish “cousins” view them. Here is just one reader’s concern. Click here to read the letter. […]

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