Michelle Duffy is the multitasking writer behind the brilliant Wander Mom blog, where she writes about the joys of travelling with children. Born in Dublin and living in Seattle, she recently brought her children to Ireland for a holiday lesson about their heritage.
This is their story.
Growing up in Ireland I didn’t think about my family’s history or roots at all. It just wasn’t important. My parents regularly took my siblings and me to visit our grandparents in Sligo and Galway and I knew in a background, “who cares?” kind of way that my family had probably been living in those same places for generations.
Roll forward to 2010. I’m a Mum with two boys, living in Seattle USA and in a very American way my children are more interested in learning about their “roots” than I ever was. My husband is also Irish so my children have visited Ireland regularly but they call themselves (proudly) “Irish-American”. They are fans of Taytos and love Father Ted but at school they’ve learned about the Pilgrims, the Mayflower and Benedict Arnold. They’d never heard of Home Rule or the Famine. We talked about taking some time on our next trip to Ireland to introduce them to some Irish history – and maybe some family history too.
Thanks to an exploding Icelandic volcano, the opportunity for a combined history lesson presented itself unexpectedly. We were in Ireland for a family wedding but with all aircraft grounded we found ourselves with time on our hands. Like good Americans we decided to do a road trip: Sligo via Belfast and the Antrim coast.
My mother is from Sligo. The row house in the photo (left) was my grandmother’s home. I have a photo of me at two years old sitting in her arms outside that window. Sensing that I might be about to get soppy on them, my kids dashed across the street (of course looking the wrong way for traffic) to check out the river, as the house faces the Garravogue.
Before I could drag them even further down memory lane with stories of feeding swans with my grandparents, Brendan, my younger son noticed the Famine Memorial sculpture.
“What’s that for?”
“Read the sign, it’s a memorial for the 30,000 people who left Ireland from Sligo during the Famine”
Even if I swore to you that my kids had heard about the Famine before then it wouldn’t matter. This was the first time they’d really thought about it. I could tell that Brendan was having a hard time reconciling what I was telling him with his mental image of Ireland. For him, Ireland is about family and fun; cousins and grandparents; music and laughter. This picture of people dying and fleeing – from right where we were standing – was just too much.
We walked on towards the Town Hall.
Meet Mr Bernard Collery, Mayor of Sligo 1882, MP for North Sligo from 1891 to 1900, my children’s great-great-great-grandfather – and an anti-Parnellite to boot. My poor kids got a bit of a crash course in Irish history in the early 20th century looking at this photo.
I think our guide took pity on them: “Would the boys like to see the council chamber?”
Sensing a way to escape the history lesson, they nodded enthusiastically.
With their new best friend leading the way, my boys followed into the bright chamber. Cillian looked around, and settled himself on the best seat in the room.
Maybe it was genes kicking in, or maybe it was just coincidence, but he was sitting in the mayor’s chair.
Michelle Duffy blogs at WanderMom where she provides inspiration on where to travel with children and tips and information on traveling around the world with kids.