Stepping Where My Grandfather Trod

Ed Forry

Is this the year to make that long-delayed trip to Ireland? I asked myself that question at the beginning of 2009, and as in previous years, the answer was a resounding "maybe."

Somehow, a trip back "home" to the land of the grandparents has always been a plan. Sure, I had made several trips to Ireland over the past two decades, each time having a great vacation but every time resolving to spend more time in advance planning and less time on the Irish roads, living out of a suitcase packed in the "boot" of a rental car.

Also, I have been frustrated from never spending the proper amount of time visiting the lands where my people were from. My mother's parents (Toomey and Downing) were of Cork, my father's (Crotty and Forry/ Farry) of Waterford and Sligo. But they had come to America in the late 1800s and there are no close relatives in the old country still bearing the family names.

But there's a family of Forrys up in Lynn whose dad had emigrated to this country around WWI, and some of them have spent time back in Sligo, and they had been in touch with some relatives whose descendants remain in the area.

And so it was that when a close friend suggested that I join her for a mid-summer flight to Galway for a wedding in her family, I set out to make some serious plans for searching out some of the family roots.

The trip was anchored around a spectacular family wedding in Galway town. If you have never been to a wedding in Ireland, you have missed one of life's great moments: the family celebration got underway sometime in mid-week, as one and another aunt, uncle, sibling, and cousin found their way, the wild geese returning home. From Wednesday to Saturday, the festivities ensued, culminating in a warm and wonderful marriage ceremony at the historic old Augustinian church on Middle Street downtown, a half-block from Shop Street. The reception took place at the Meyrick Hotel (formerly called the Great Southern Hotel) on Eyre Square, and as the wedding day turned into Sunday, the celebration continued well into the weekend. After a few hours rest, the party gathered again at the bride's home, and some guests re-emerged with their fiddles, guitars, and tin whistles and staged a spontaneous session. The bride's father even trotted out his heirloom harmonica, regaling all with his music and great good humour.

Then it was time to venture into the northwest, in search of the Forry family roots. A two-hour drive up the N17 through Mayo and past Knock led to Sligo, for a two-day stay at the stunning Cromleach Lodge Country House & Spa, just outside Castlebaldwin. This beautiful hillside retreat overlooks Lough Arrow, and gives a view across the lake and valley of Carrowkeel Cairns. Splendid in its scenery, our early-August stay featured warm days, long evenings, and a sunset across the western hills across the valley.

It was on that first evening at Cromleach that I realized I was looking out at the land where my grandfather once lived!

On the other side of the valley, nestled in the Village of Keash, stand the caves of Keash. On a whirlwind motor trip ten years ago, we had seen these caves on the side of the mountain, and my sister, Mary Tanner, had recalled hearing family stories telling of them. But this time, this year, I was able to wander the land, talk to some locals, and ask, "Does anyone know where any Forry ancestors might have called home?"

In a quick cellphone call back to Lynn, cousin Jack Forry confirmed that his uncle Jim had lived there until a half century ago, but later had moved to Sligo town. Remarkably, at Fox's Pub, the local public house in the village, the owner knew of a women who now lived along the main road in a house that 50 years ago was the home of Jim Forry. He took us there, and the woman welcomed us into the house and said she remembered him; better still, she told us the "Forry land" was about a mile and a half down the road in the direction of Boyle.

Ten minutes later, I was standing on that land, looking up into the hills, and walking across farmland where, I believe, my grandfather walked!

It is a story that's not at all uncommon: the modern-day American with scant knowledge of his ancestors, stumbling across little pieces of information that point back across the generations. There, on that warm August day, in the rural outback of County Sligo, I was walking on what I believed to be my grandfather's land. PJ Forry left Ireland behind fully 125 years ago and came to America where he started his new Irish American family. And here was I that many years later, standing where he had stood, footsteps unseen, only imagined, yet very much real to me!

What new wonders the year 2010 will bring can only imagined. Is this, at last, the year to make that long-delayed trip to Ireland?