Ireland offers plenty of help for roots-searchers

by Judy Enright
Special to the BIR

Is it because this country is such a grand melting pot that so many of us are engaged in the search for our roots? There are, of course, a number of sensible reasons for learning about your past: ancient traditions that might be lost if you didn’t learn about them; or genetic medical conditions in the family that you should know about and watch for.

But beyond all that, it’s just plain fun to learn who your ancestors were, how and where they lived, what they did for work, who they married, when they came to this country, or why they stayed in Ireland or went to other countries, who their children were, where they are now, and more.
With all of that in mind, what better place to start your search for information than at any of the heritage centers all across Ireland?
We recently visited a heritage center in Lettershea, Connemara, just outside Clifden, Co. Galway. At the Connemara Heritage and History Centre, we stopped by Dan O’Hara’s re-created homestead and learned that he and his family were forced by a cruel landlord to leave their home during the Famine.
O’Hara was among more than a million Irish who emigrated during those famine years. He was evicted from his homestead in 1845 and, with his wife and seven children, sailed to New York aboard one of the infamous “coffin ships.” Sadly, only Dan and four of his children survived the voyage.
The Heritage Centre in Lettershea has recreated the farm to commemorate O’Hara and all those who were forced to leave their homelands. Also at the Centre, there is a “Roots from Ireland Park” where you can choose an ash, alder, hawthorn, or sycamore tree that will be planted in honor of or in memory of your ancestors, friends, or family members. And, there’s also a crannog lake dwelling to see, as well as a prehistoric dolmen, and some modern attractions like a café/restaurant, craft shop, and B&B.
It’s an interesting place to visit although it is nearly impossible to imagine how a man, his wife, and their seven children could possibly have lived together in that small, one-room house.
If you happen to be out in the Connemara area, do stop by this heritage center – on the road to Clifden - and see for yourself how the O’Haras lived back in that day. For more information, visit the website: or or e-mail to
At Christmas, the givingest time of year, we like to mention the wonderful work done by Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Mallow, Co. Cork. This is such a worthwhile Irish cause and one we support as often as we can.
The Sanctuary takes donkeys from all over the country and ensures that they receive veterinary care, food, shelter, a safe environment, and the attention and care of a devoted staff. If you are in that area, it’s a great place to spend some time walking around and petting the donkeys.
We stopped by last spring and were as impressed as we always are by the excellent condition of these unwanted donkeys and by the well-maintained facility in which they live.
For more information, to donate online, or to adopt a donkey as a gift for some worthy child or adult, visit
The West of Ireland must be totally pumped by Ryanair’s recent announcement that, starting in April, four new routes will be opened between Ireland West Airport in Knock, Co. Mayo, and Girona (Barcelona), Hahn (Frankfurt), Bergamo (Milan), and Beauvais (Paris.) These new routes will link the airport with some of Europe’s largest tourism markets and bring to 14 the total number of Ryanair routes operating out of Knock. The new routes are sure to boost employment and tourism opportunities in the West.
If you’d like to read a fun story about how Knock Airport came about, find a copy of On a Wing and a Prayer, The Story of Knock Airport by Terry Reilly. It’s a most interesting story about Monsignor James Horan’s travails and ultimate success in getting the airport built in the West of Ireland.
If you are in Dublin between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4 and you enjoy buying unique gifts, be sure to stop by the National Crafts & Design Fair in the Main Hall at the RDS. There will be more than 500 exhibitors there and it sounds like a great show.
If shopping isn’t what you like to do, then how about something more traditional and very, very Irish? Wren’s Day on the Dingle Peninsula will be celebrated on Dec. 26 and was once enjoyed in towns all over Ireland. But those ancient rites have now nearly disappeared with the exception of this event in Dingle, which is one reason it is so special. Straw costumes and fancy dress are the order of the day as “wrens” go from pub to pub collecting donations for charity. For details visit the website:
Want to celebrate New Year’s Eve in style? How about a visit to Dromoland Castle in Co. Clare or Castlemartyr Resort in Co. Cork? You can purchase a variety of holiday packages, some of which include accommodation, activities, meals, and more, depending on which package you choose. For more details, visit or
Love horse racing? Well then, how about getting involved in the exciting hunt racing at the Guinness Christmas Racing Festival held from Dec. 26-29 in Greenmount Park, Patrickswell, Co. Limerick? For details visit
From Dec. 3 to 23, you can enjoy the season at the Athenry Arts & Heritage Centre in Co. Galway. Visit for more details about this festive event.
When you decide to travel to Ireland, be sure to visit your favorite travel agent or the Aer Lingus website ( for the latest in flight and ground deals. There are also flights and deals offered by US Airways ( and other airlines, but they usually involve layovers that can add several hours to the trip but also reduce the cost.
And check out seasonal happenings at Tourism Ireland’s informative website ( Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go.
We wish all our readers an enjoyable holiday season and a happy and healthy New Year's.