Ireland Revisited, Part 13

On the Famine Trail in Search of Ancestral Roots

June 11 - 26, 1997

 

By Lewis and Betty Nolan

 

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Part 1: Memphis to Dublin

Part 7:  Cork, Kinsale

Part 2: Carlow, Site of Nolan Homelands

Part 8:  Dingle Golf Links

Part 3: Kilkenny, Waterford, Crystal Plant

Part 9:  Dingle's Famine Cemetery

Part 4: Youghal, Dingle Town

Part 10: Ballinasloe, County Galway

Part 5: Dingle Peninsula

Part 11: Strokestown Famine Museum

Part 6: Great Blasket Island

Part 12: Donegal

Photo Album Index

Part 13: Drive in Northern Ireland

 

Wednesday, June 25, 1997 - Driving in Northern Ireland, Lewis -

            Our last full day in Ireland was largely a driving day, as we had to travel from the country's northwest coast to its east central coast of Dublin. We took a
Lewis at Killybegs
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
scenic route and headed north from Donegal - over some more of the awful country lanes that pass for highways - to have a look at the impressive coastline around Killybegs, an important fishing center that is home to many large, seagoing trawlers. The smell of fish was pervasive and the photo opportunities plentiful.

            We decided to follow the advice of some locals and cut across a portion of Northern Ireland in order to shorten the drive and take advantage of the far superior roads built and maintained by the British government. We entered Northern Ireland without initially knowing it by crossing a bridge in the nondescript village of Pettigo, where a woman pointed out the undistinguished boundary marking. But we soon passed through the small town of Kesh, with its heavily fortified police station giving proof that we were "in the north," as the Irish say.

            Despite the tonnage of press coverage in the United States, many Americans do not realize that the Republic of Ireland is a sovereign country and has been since early in the 20th Century. Northern Ireland is a part of Great Britain and a small majority of its residents are passionately English in culture and political outlook. One thing the two parts of Ireland have in common: everybody drives on the left side of the road.

            The roads in Northern Ireland were indeed much better in all aspects (quality of pavement, width of lanes, straightness, existence of shoulders and even some passing lanes). The architecture of the housing and commercial structures was also different, with many buildings made of bricks rather than the less expensive stone and stucco that seem to be the norm in the Southwest part of the Republic of Ireland. The town of Enniskillin (pop. 11,400) on Lough Erne looked more English than Irish. But the petrol prices were even higher and the
Betty at Pedigo crossing
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road signage just as confusing as in the Republic of Ireland. The traffic was remarkably thin as we cut miles off our route by driving across a high plateau, or moor, covered with wildflowers and rhododendrons as tall as a cottage with massive, fuchsia blooms.

            We drove past a British fortress-like checkpoint (complete with bomb blast doors, gun towers and electric barriers) when we re-entered the Republic of Ireland near Belturbet, south of Enniskillin on Highway N3. All the firepower and security precautions we saw were on the Northern Ireland side of the border, with nothing on the Republic of Ireland side. But this day the checkpoint was unmanned. We were told that the border security checks would probably be much more intensive in July, when the Protestant, loyalist extremists in Northern Ireland don their orange garb, bang their big drums and march to celebrate William of Orange's victory over the Catholics four centuries ago. The marching is done to the intense displeasure of their Catholic neighbors.

            We finally got on one of the main Republic of Ireland roadways that are four-lanes wide and drove into Dublin. We decided to spend our last night at the Forte Posthouse, an airport hotel we had stayed at on our first trip, in 1986. We had a good dinner at the hotel and retired early in preparation for the next morning's flight home.

 

Wednesday, June 25, 1997 - Betty -

            Photographs taken today included shots at Donegal, Killybegs, Pettigo and Kesh in Northern Ireland, the Moors on a high plateau, Enniskillin, Butler's Bridge and Dublin.

 

Thursday, June 26, 1997 - Dublin to Memphis, Lewis -

            International travel, particular the leg of the journey that takes one home, is such a letdown and a hassle. Long flights multiply the tiresome, boring and often aggravating annoyances that come part and parcel with commercial airline travel in the 1990s. But at least this time, things went reasonably well at the Dublin Airport, which goes to great lengths to be sure that its visitors are aware of the fame of Ireland's four Nobel Laureates for Literature. Their stature is celebrated and excerpts from their work trumpeted in a series of large posters that hang from the ceilings in the boarding area. In our gate area were posters of W. B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.

            We even found the words of Yeats emblazoned on the seat backs in the tourist section of the Aer Lingus plane we were on for the short, connecting flight to Amsterdam. The Aer Lingus flight attendants - all attractive, young Irish women - served a tasty lunch of sliced roast beef and ham, potato salad, apple pie and choice of drink (beer and wine included at no charge), complete with metal knifes and forks. They also gave two passbys of coffee service during the 1 hour, 15 minute flight to Amsterdam's Schipol. Who says efficiency is not in the Irish character?

            Security was tight at the Dutch airport, which ranks among the world's busiest. Police carrying automatic rifles augmented the airport's already large guard staff. Betty was hassled by KLM Security because she carried a camera and piece of leaded glass crystal through the boarding gate metal detector (we had earlier passed through the boarding area's metal detection equipment). I had to open my quarter-sized pillbox so it could be inspected. We saw guards kneeling down on the floor to examine the undersides of seats in one waiting area. We were not told whether what was happening was routine or was in response to a specific threat and I wasn't about to ask.

            The transAtlantic flight wasn't too bad, once you learn that the best way of dealing with the Dutch flight attendants in tourist class is to ignore them and bring your own bottle of water and snacks. The flight time to Memphis from Amsterdam was 9 hours, 10 minutes, a slower leg than the flight coming over due to flying against the jet stream. We left Dublin at 10:40 a.m. (local time) and arrived in Memphis at 6:50 p.m. (local time), quite tired and glad to be home. Or course, I was disappointed that my third try at finding strong evidence of my great-grandfather's birth and life in Ireland yielded more questions than answers. I'll resume the search with some letters and Internet inquiries once I return home. Who knows, possibly I'll learn enough to travel back to Ireland to try yet another time.

- Lewis Nolan, April 19, 1999

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