The Washerwoman’s Genes

September 2, 2006

Irish Interlude

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 2:35 pm

A month without writing! I’ve been on the go, first to Lake Placid, and then to Ireland. I had not been to the ancestral sod since college, decades ago, I’m afraid. I never returned because my short visit as a student shocked me with the poverty and provinciality–two things I was already trying to get over from my actual life. But of course, I have heard about the Celtic tiger. I remember, in fact, the NPR segment about it that I heard while sitting in my car waiting for a skater to emerge from the rink, how surprised it left me feeling. The Irish, successful?

So I finally got myself over there to take it in. Or rather, be taken in. I had a lovely time, but Ireland is probably more expensive that Paris. It overflows with tourists, but about a third of them are not American–they’re German, French, Dutch, Asian . . . everyone’s out to see the pre-historic ruins, while the incense of religiosity has faded in the wind.

We drove extensively, discovering that all the towns are spiffed up: fresh paint on all the stores, bulging flower boxes and landscaped parks, excellent (though narrow) roads. The historic sites are all well-managed, the signage is quite good, and every one has a recent car. There is a building boom: new develpments going up everywhere, far out of Dublin, and often the hotel clerks and so forth are not Irish, but from Poland or other European country. One of the papers had an article about a construction-job fair held in Poland to recruit workers for Ireland.

I was grateful for the attention that’s been paid to maintaining ancient sites and documenting the past. In particular, we found the national museums full of treasures and beautifully done. The “Museum of Country Living” near Westport documents and preserves artifacts and folklife from rural Ireland, and I found its exhibits on old customs and way of life quite touching.

We also went to the Corlea Trackway, which preserves a piece of a log road across the otherwise unbreachable bog land, a road built in prehistoric times which sunk quickly into the peat through its own weight. The topography of Ireland is quite varied for such a small area, and the bog phenomenon is quite fascinating. The National Museum in Dublin displays many artifacts and even corpses preserved and then recovered from the anaerobic depths of the bogs. They still mine peat from the bogs and use it as fuel; in one guesthouse we stayed in, they had a peat fire burning in the main room.

Eurostyle has overtaken quaint in Ireland, and not just in the cities. It’s great for them. While my trip was not a genealogical one, I did go through Roscommon County to Elphin and ask for the locale of Tansyfield, where my Grandma Jennie, yes, one of the washerwomen, was born. We drove up the road and had a good look around. It’s beautiful there now, still rural, but hardly impoverished.

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