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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Walking In The Footsteps of your Ancestors

The first time that I visited Ireland, I felt a connection to that place.  Maybe the connection is that I have blood relatives there who picked us up at the Dublin Airport and welcomed us with open arms.  Maybe the welcome feeling was as a result of the fact that so many of my ancestors are from Ireland.  Or maybe, just maybe, that connected feeling is because of the people who live there now.  I'd like to think that it is all of the above.

Walking in the footsteps of my ancestors was awesome in Termonfechin, Louth, Ireland, in 2004.  It was also rather lost on me looking back now.   I did not know who all of  my Flanagan's were then.  While drinking some "Mountain Dew" (not the soda pop that we have here in America...not even close) in Termonfechin,  I looked over my Flanagan Family tree displayed in a bound book at the Flanagan Farm in Termonfechin and was rather overwhelmed.  I had no idea of the details that awaited me.

While I did visit Monasterboice, Drogheda, and Newgrange, during my first visit to Ireland, I can only tell you briefly of the moving experience of visiting St. Fechin's cemetery.  In all of my life, I have felt that feeling of "awe" in certain circumstances.  I felt it once when viewing the landed Goodyear Blimp at the Oakland Airport when I was quite young.  I felt it again when looking up at the Statue of Liberty, on Liberty Island from ground level, front facing.  I've felt it a few other times like when driving into Yosemite Valley at dusk....looking up to see El Capitan and Half Dome looming over the valley floor.  That feeling of "awe" is almost unmatched when it comes to real life experiences.  Isn't that what life's all about?

One of my closest and dearest friends told me recently that the "experiences" in life is what it is all about and helps us learn  She may not remember saying that or phrasing it that way but she does try to live it.   She works to expose her children to any and everything from Hawaii to St. Petersburg, Russia.  Is that the answer?  Experiences?  There is a method to her travels, whether she realizes it or not, it is, in some cases, about trying to walk in the footsteps of one's ancestors and to learn life's lessons through history and, let's not deny it, have some fun!

So back to St. Fechin's....If something gives you chills, elation, wonderment, and curiosity all at the same time, do you stop and squash it?  I think that Americans do.  I think that it is human nature to flush those odd, obscure feelings of disbelief away (or rather down the drain to be specific).  In almost the same sentence, I have to say that feeling of "awe" rolled over me when I looked at the oldest of the old headstones at St. Fechin's belonging to a Flanagan.  Am I being melancholy?  Maybe....I did feel "awe" at that point but squashed it immediately as a 33 year old would do.  I was pretty tired from the long air trip too and did not know what to expect.  I did not understand that I was feeling like I did at the Statue of Liberty.  Is that what many Irish-Americans, or anyone experiencing their roots, feel?

I get it now.  I also get that I walked somewhat in the footsteps of my Flanagan's on their farm, in their village, and on their holy ground where generations have stood and watched family members be buried.  I think that I finally "get it". 

As I draw back stateside, I can visit a place about an hour and fifteen minutes from where I live now, and think of the past and the footsteps.  The first place is Tulocay Cemetery in Napa, California.  I can imagine and have experienced graveside ceremonies for those who have passed on.  I have walked in the footsteps of those who came before me and buried our family.  I have even been there myself for some of  those ceremonial experiences that memorialized our loved ones. 

The other location in Napa, California that comes to mind is the Flanagan Ranch in Carneros....now owned by someone else as I've stated in my blog.  Can I hold my head up high?   Absolutely.  Life goes on and sometimes a vineyard.....even a home.....in the famed Carneros Area of the Napa Valley live on as a vineyard.  I have walked up the front steps of the Flanagan home in Carneros...on the footsteps of my Flanagan's...but have never gone into to the house.

I am so passionate about my family tree.  The location in Napa seems so close to where I live now but in some cases are unknown, inaccessible to me, or live in my memories.  Walking in the footsteps of your ancestors can be fullfilling, difficult, and rewarding.   I hope to access, unlock, and be able to walk in my ancestor's footsteps where I have never walked before and where those so dear to me have walked before.

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