Upon my return from spending several days in Ireland and the United Kingdom—a birthday gift from my son, Ian, and his wife, Sandra in June, 2016, it took a long time for me to realize I had not been dreaming. It was all real. When planning the trip, Sandra asked if there were any special places I wanted to visit. I knew of one right away—County Cork, from where my great-grandmother, Jane Kelly, emigrated sometime in the mid-1800’s.
We did just that after spending the first few days in Dublin, exploring all there was to see and traveling down the coast to Waterford to visit the crystal factory—a fascinating place to learn how the famous, and expensive, Waterford crystal is made. Finally, on to Cobh Island in Cork.
I learned that Cobh Island is the spot from where all Irish emigrated during the horrific potato famine and other atrocities brought about during the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, the museum was closed by the time we arrived there, so I didn’t get to see the artifacts contained there. I was actually hoping to see some sort of ledger the emigrants had to sign before boarding their ships.
As we walked around the building where the museum was housed, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of what the hundreds of people leaving their homeland must have felt. They were going across an ocean, where land lay they could not see. They had no idea of what lay ahead—neither from the sea, nor from the new land where they hoped to find a better life. I felt the excitement and anticipation of those who had the adventurous spirit, and the heartache and worry of those who were leaving family and security behind. I felt their tears as they said good-by and the constant chatter of those who had to use such chatter to cover their apprehension. I felt the comfort families gave each other as they reached out in support of the decisions that this was the right thing to do and life would be good on the other side of the waters. And I felt my great-grandmother’s presence, knowing she had stood in the same spot where I stood, walked the same floors and roads where I walked. That alone set my tears flowing, briefly, but nevertheless, they came.
We stopped in a restaurant to eat dinner, and then walked down to the pier and the building from which the Irish boarded the boats that would take them to a new home. The building was closed, and the pier was rotting. The planks that would have held the people walking to the boats were gone, and only the rotting pilings stood—choppy waves continuing to splash against them as they did over a hundred years ago.
A cemented gravel wall lined the grounds at the site. Ian “found” a small stone in that wall, which he handed to me. That will find a place in the scrapbook that is yet to be made along with a journaling note and picture of the wall.
Those few hours spent in Cobh Island became my diamond in the sky. I had never met Jane Kelly, except through my mother’s memories of her. Was she there with me in spirit that day? Maybe. I like to think so.