Before we met up with the McCormack relatives in County Laois (read Part I and Part II) we visited another branch of our family tree in Connemara, County Galway. The McDonaghs are related to my great-grandmother Mary Hannon, who came to America in the late 1800s.
On the second day of our visit in September of 2009, we left Spiddal in the afternoon and drove west. The landscape quickly became more rugged and less inhabited. The quiet and the desolation made it feel like we were traveling back in time. The roads narrowed as we made our way through the group of small islands connected by bridges and causeways, located in the southwestern reaches of Connemara. Our intermediate stop was a shop where we were to call for Michael McDonagh to come and guide us the rest of the way.
Michael arrived at the shop on cue, and after introductions, lead us to our final destination. When we arrived at the McDonagh farm in Maumeen, Lettermore, County Galway, we were greeted by Michael’s brother Joseph and their sisters Monica and Kate. Michael and Joseph are bachelor farmers in their fifties. Monica lives next door to Michael and Joseph, while Kate is married and lives nearby.
When we sat down at the table for tea, it was official – we had stepped back in time. My family was momentarily confused; there were only five places at the table. Monica assured us that they had already had their tea and we should get comfortable, as she and Kate readied things in the kitchen. Michael and Joseph sat nearby in their chairs.
Once Kate and Monica had delivered the heaping plates of sandwiches, salad, and scones to the table, and filled our cups with tea, they sat down nearby. Our awkwardness diminished with the lively conversation. We all chatted, getting to know one another, and Michael would get up every few minutes to retrieve a book from the bookshelf or a news clipping from the other room for us to examine.
After tea, Monica brought the ladies out for a stroll around the garden and down the lane. Michael, Joseph, and my father stayed inside, and (I can only guess!) they talked about genealogy, history, and sports.
The McDonaghs were the perfect hosts. I wonder how many American relatives they have welcomed into their home over the years? Michael and Joseph are so open to learning about relatives from all over, and they are genuinely interested in what happened to branches of their family tree after they abruptly broke away three or four generations ago when relatives emigrated.
If you are reading this Dad…let me know if I have the place-name correct…it was confusing with all those little islands!