While we were officially staying in Ballina, Ballina has a twin town across the water, called Killaloe. The two were so close that, unless you knew they were different, one would naturally assume they were the same place. Looking out on the Lough, on the Killaloe side, was another B&B called Derg House, which had a small little coffee shop with very good coffee and very tasty pastries. We found ourselves stopping off at Derg House at least once a day, to sip coffee and use their wifi. During one of these stops, while we were discussing where we would be researching/field tripping for the day, another woman sitting at a table near us asked were we were from. As my mum began talking with her, I realized her accent was, well, not Irish, so we asked where she was from.
She was from Australia. She had heard my mum mention one of the families she was looking for, and happened to have the same surname somewhere in her family tree, and they fell to talking while I continued typing madly away (I may or may not have been talking with the likes of the illustrious Mirriam Neal, who you all met last week). Unfortunately, she had not done anywhere near as much research about her family as mum had, but she had been visiting Ireland and had a spare weekend, so she decided to pop up and see what she could find. I personally think she had done a bit more research than she let on about, as Ballina and Killaloe aren’t exactly the largest place, and I think only a person who knew something about both the area, its history, and their family would turn up there on a lark. Nevertheless, the chat went on for quite a while, until we pointed her in the direction of the COI (which was about a block away). She went that way, and we headed on to the library.
It is always a bit flabbergasting to think of the sheer number of people who left Ireland during the 1800s, even moreso when you find yourself standing next to a Lough and realizing there really aren’t that many people around. Then when you begin to think of how many people have descended from those that left, it becomes even more staggering. How did such a small place produce so many people? More importantly, how many people consider this to be their ancestral home?
The answer, of course, is “who knows?” I have seen numbers ranging from the completely believable to the outrageous (one study claimed that 80% of US residents were significantly Irish. For some reason I doubt that). But then, many Americans don’t know where their families hail from. And when you don’t know where you are from, Ireland might be as good a choice as any. It sure is friendly enough.