It has always astounded me when I watch the TV programme “Who do you think you are?” that some of the people on it don’t even know who their grandparents were. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a family where my brother did the family tree on Dad’s side back four generations, and that on my mother’s side, despite her father coming out from Ireland in 1922, was known to us.
When I went to Ireland the first time in 1999 I met my great-aunt Lizzie, or “Big Lizzie” as she was known. She was about 97 years old at the time and she told me more about my grandad, including the fact that he hid in an open grave from the Black & Tans before getting on a ship to New Zealand. I saw photos of him, Neil and Patrick (the two brothers who travelled to NZ with him) as young teenagers, probably taken before they left so the family had a reminder. She told me about the 12 children in the family and, most sadly, she told me how when she was 10 years old she said goodbye to Joe, knowing she’d never see him again. And that was true – he died in NZ having never gone home.
On this trip Big Lizzie was no longer around – she passed on 4 years ago aged 101. However the cousins, second cousins and cousins once removed were all there again to meet some more of my family. We went to the graves, to pay our respects and also to Grandad’s house. The family still live there some 350 years since it was originally built! It was a wee house with thatched roof back in the day. It housed 14 people yet only had a kitchen, lounge, bedroom and washroom! It’s been built on and clad and re-roofed and looks like it might have been built about 60 years ago, not 350. The coal range stove sits in the kitchen from Grandad’s day.
Anyway, I truly know who I am – mum always reckoned I inherited most of grandad’s irish genes – perhaps why I feel so at home in the Emerald Isle (north and south!). I also think it is important to know who and where you come from, so it was great to take some more whanau to meet the irish clan!