Travel Stories From Our Students: Contributor Erin Faherty
I don’t remember everything. I was a sullen teenager after all. My parents and sister and I went to Ireland the summer before I started eighth grade. My family jokes that they had to tell me to look up from my magazines as we were driving because I wasn’t taking in enough of the scenery. The below picture proves them wrong, that I was taking in the scenery, at least when I wasn’t reading:
I remember listening to our cassette tapes of the Backstreet Boys, Savage Garden, and Will Smith’s Big Willie Style while driving. I remember my mom gasping every time my dad drove around a corner and another car appeared. I remember discovering the Irish boybands of Boyzone and Ultra, and loving Ultra’s “Say It Once” so much that we came home and bought the CD online, which was hard to do in the nineties.
I remember struggling with the cuisine, begging to stop at McDonald’s. I remember being disappointed at a different restaurant to receive a much anticipated slice of pizza because it came with corn on top of it. I remember my dad falling down a hill and landing in sheep manure and the rest of us laughing more than we ever had before.
I remember climbing lots of stairs in lots of castles. I remember being in awe of the Cliffs of Moher. I remember kissing the Blarney Stone in the pouring rain.
But what I remember the most is something I don’t even know all the details about. It’s the feeling I had in a particular moment that I remember.
My dad had done some research into our family tree before our trip. We knew the town we came from and we had a few leads into our ancestry. We found the church where my great-grandfather was baptized. A conversation at a tourist bureau led us to a farmhouse where we started talking to the owner. When we told the owner our last name, he pulled us into the barn and started doling out Wellington boots. I didn’t realize what was happening but then the farmer pointed toward the hills and told us to go forth on our journey.
We trudged through puddles, through the rain, and up and down numerous hills, which I noted as “mountains” in my journal from the trip. I have in my notes that Farmer O’Neill told us it would take about twenty minutes, but in my memory, the climb took over an hour. My boots were about four sizes too big and had holes that were letting the rain and puddles in, so I was the slowest moving of the bunch. We all slipped several times and struggled to cross a creek, but we made it to the top of one of the “mountains” and everything became worth it.
We were suddenly gazing upon the village where my great-grandfather grew up. The village was in ruins, but we could make out the outlines of stone buildings of yesterday. We had heard that the children here had to walk hours through puddles, through the rain, up and down these hills to get to school each morning and to come back each afternoon, just as we had done. I hadn’t understood why anyone would live that far away from everything until I looked around us and really took it all in. “Who wouldn’t want to live here? This has to be what heaven looks like,” I remember my dramatic 13-year-old self saying aloud.
We later learned that this wasn’t a village, it was a house for just my great grandfather, his parents, his eleven-ish siblings, and their sheep. My family used to take care of the land on the O’Neill farm. As far as we know, my family is the only family that ever lived in this valley.
I’ll never forget the volume of feelings I had that day – of the importance of family, of knowing where I come from, of being thankful to those who came before me, and of being determined to do everything within my power to make my ancestors proud of me.
I wondered if they could have ever imagined that over a century later, people would come back to see where they lived, that people would be thinking of them, and thanking them. And I wondered if anyone would ever return to the house where I grew up in South Jersey and say “Wow, that’s where she lived! She took the bus to school every day from that corner! I am so thankful for her.”
Since Ireland, I’ve taken many more trips. I’ve been to Thailand, Hong Kong, Argentina, all of Western Europe, and more. But in all my trips and with all my stories, seeing where I came from is still the most significant thing I’ve done while on the road. I will keep traveling as much as I possibly can. And I hope by doing so, I’m making my ancestors – some of whom never knew much of the world outside of that valley – proud.