Tionol na gClann – An Irish Family Gathering
My written thoughts about a once-in-a-lifetime Irish family gathering in 2003 are overdue. I’ll attempt to capture, in simple words, the feelings and emotions of attending an extended Irish family gathering.
One summer bank holiday weekend in 2003, descendants of Thomas Healy and Sarah (Bourke) Healy, pictured above, gathered in Belderrig, north County Mayo, Ireland, to celebrate a common ancestry and pay tribute to parents and grandparents along the way. What a special experience!
To spend four days with over 150 people, related in numerous branches of a Healy family tree, was an experience to cherish for a lifetime.
Day One – Friday: Relatives from all around the world began arriving in north Mayo. Family members traveled from near and far to attend the Healy clan gathering. They came from as far away as Australia, the Mideast, the European continent, and the United States. They came to their ancestors’ small village in a remote part of north Mayo. They gathered together to celebrate and commemorate family members who had gone before and passed on. Late night pub revelry and house parties, with conversations into the wee hours, were the norm. Extended family members, many who had not seen each other for five or more years, renewed relationships and filled in the missing parts of life stories.
There were plenty of smiles and laughs that went on and on into the night. There is nothing in the world that can compare to the feeling and memories of late night conversations and storytelling around a fireplace turf fire in an Irish cottage in a remote part of the Irish countryside with the beverage of your choice!
Day Two – Saturday: After the late night revelry and house parties of the previous evening, it was up early at 10 a.m. for a brisk, refreshing walk to the site of a former Irish Coast Guard station that ancestors had manned long ago. The site, on high ground overlooking the wild North Atlantic, is close to dramatic north Mayo sea cliffs. The site offered quite a breathtaking view for the early morning risers. We were walking the trails and paths that our ancestors had walked long ago. We were now wide awake and ready to face the long, exciting day ahead of us. I had great admiration and a new respect for the older members of the group who showed more spunk and energy that some of the younger members.
After a very sociable, hearty lunch in the village community center, the more adventuresome, fit, athletic family members walked from Belderrig to Doonfeeney, a distance of about 13 kilometers or 8 miles. They traced our forbearers’ footsteps and followed the same route that our ancestors walked between the two villages. The modern day walk commemorated our ancestors’ late 19th century and early 20th century travels in north County Mayo. Of course, the less adventuresome, fit, and athletic, including yours truly, drove the route to the destination. At the destination, family members gathered in the Doonfeeney cemetery, where grandparents and great grandparents are buried, to pray for and honor our ancestors long gone.
Later that evening, the family packed the community center for a special, once in a lifetime, intimate concert by family members delivering their best “party pieces”. The talent on stage included wonderful Irish folk singers, poetry readers, comedians, and “three lovely lasses from Bannion”! A great session, with plenty of audience participation, went on well past midnight.
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