August 15th, 2009
Initially, it seemed like it would be a hassle. I could have gone straight to Belfast with Kat to meet her friend and experience the tall ships festival. Fortunately, a little hassle never amounts to much of a deterrent for me. In fact, I tend to take hassles as challenges, and that is how I happened to view this particular opportunity. I knew I could get to Belfast eventually to indulge in my love of Pirate related encounters.
To begin with, my heritage is a topic I seldom turn away from.In recent years, investigation of my family's past has increased drastically by members of both sides of my family. In this case, Aunt Cathy is the culprit. For many years, she's fed me with stories of our Irish past, which remained pretty vague until she amplified her detective genealogical work in the past few years. My middle name is Catherine, and I am the sixth generation in my family to hold this title. Aunt Cathy is the fifth.
Catharine Ryan immigrated to America from Ireland during the onset of the potato famine. She was the first of the Catherine's. her parents were Alice O'Brian and Thomas Ryan of Cabbaugh White (Cappawhite), Ireland. It is a tiny town, a village, just fourteen or so kilometers outside of Tipperary Town, which is quite a small place in its own.
After a bus and two trains, a walk and a wonderfully memorable taxi ride, I found myself outside a small church in the center of Cabbaugh White. I was told in Thursday's email from Aunt Cathy that this was the baptismal site of my great-great-great grandmother: Catharine Ryan. I was presumable staring at a piece of my personal history, far older than any of the houses or sites related to my heritage that I had ever met in the States. Catharine. My namesake.
The church itself had been refurbished, so only remnants of centuries past could be identified. I could tell by the underlying structure, the walls surrounding the building, and the backside of the church that this was the right place. This was the founding church that stood in the early 1800s where our first Catharine was blessed as an infant.
This was not a solo journey. Edmund O'Brien, my native of Tipperary Town taxi driver, accompanied me for the entire limited duration of my heritage adventure.
I had one hour and a half before I needed to catch a new train to Dublin so that I could reach the last train to Belfast that night. I wasn't enough time to find a bike to rent or a place to store my massive orange multi-pocketed companion. I had asked about Tipperary Town for a taxi service from the moment I disembarked my second train. At the Tipperary Cultural and Art Center, which was seemingly a movie theater with some paintings, I prompted my question again. The woman I met upon entering was smiling and dialing before I even had all the words out of my mouth. She hung up the phone and told me that a taxi would be waiting outside for me in just two minutes. Thus followed my introduction to Edmund O'Brien, the ridiculously sweet man who was so pleased to accompany me to my two vague destinations for an hour and a half and then deposit me at the next train station over, so that I would not have to switch trains as much. I had given him no indication that train switching was a problem for me, but he assured me that it would be in my best interest to start from a different station. He searched for clues to my family's past right alongside me, as though he himself were a member, and at the end of our journey, he charged me a fare that was about a quarter of the amount I'd anticipated and provided me with all of his contact information in case I ever return to further delve into my family history.
The second destination, following the church, was a visit (by my meager description) to "a cemetery just outside of Cabbaugh White where I might find some names that relate to my family's past." We stepped into the cemetery in Cabbaugh White, but Edmund's few minute reaction to it was that it was far to new to be the cemetery I was seeking. Having already developed a deep seeded trust in the man, I followed his instinct. He said that we would ask someone in the town, preferably someone fairly old, who might know where another cemetery was located.
The first people we passed were a thirty-something mom, tennis racket in hand, with a tiney blond daughter frolicking about. The woman said she had just moved into town, but she would run and grad someone who she was sure would know. A moment later, a tiny old woman dressed in all red including lavish lipstick and earrings, hobbled forward to address our inquiry. She indicated that the cemetery we had in mind was probably the one in Tombs, an even smaller and ironically named location, two kilometers away. Edmund said "Alright, we go," and we were on our way.
We pulled up to the cemetery and adrenaline shot through me! It looked ancient! My generally fascinated interest in cemeteries jumped forward as I saw the dilapidated headstones, stature, and tower within the moss-covered stone walls. It looked like the scene of a zombie movie. It was awesome! This was real! This was history! And these were my people! I climbed a narrow set of three sideways stone steps to enter over the cemetery wall. Edmund followed, and we began our search through the tall sodden grass, attempting to read the select tombstones that age had yet to remedy illegible.
Aunt Cathy had provided me with the full names of two Cabbaugh White relatives who had died in their home town: the aforementioned Thomas Ryan an Alice O'Brien, the parents of Catharine Ryan and her siblings. Aunt Cathy said that I also might find Heffaran's or Boney's to whom I may or may not be distantly related.
Edmund and I found grave sites dedicated to James Ryan, Mary Ryan, Margaret Ryan and more, as well as tombs erected in memory of "The Ryan Family." Dates ranged from the 1800s to the early 1900s, but so many were far too old to decipher (awesome!).
Then, Edmund called me over. He said, "What da ya make of this? Looks like it's aged about the right time frame but there's no date." It was a tall, slender, plain stone tombstone with an epigraph dedicated to a loving father, Thomas Ryan. Although, I was probably distantly related to all of the Ryan's in that graveyard, which was an incredible feeling in its own, here I was standing on the plot of a man who quite possible was my great-great-great-great grandfather, a man who lived an ocean and half a continent away from my native Minnesota in a land rich with culture and history dating to ancient times. Whether or not it was really him, it hit me. These were my roots, and just a small portion of them. So the bug has bitten. History is my quest, and seeing from where and how I came to be Alissa Catherine Demmer is bound to occupy a highly substantial chunk of my future. It's time to plan trips to Norway, Denmark, and Germany.