I experienced Irish hospitality in Northern Ireland

Tom O’Rourke and Bernadette (O’Rourke) Cousins. About a year ago, I was looking through my DNA matches when I found I matched a man named Tom O’Rourke. Though a distant cousin, Tom lives about 200 yards from my ancestor’s home in Killowen, Northern Ireland. Bernadette is his daughter.

It is true what they say about Irish hospitality. As I think back on my visit to my Irish relatives nearly a month ago, I can’t remember one minute where I didn’t feel welcome or like a part of the family. The Irish people are some of the most friendly people on this earth.

Despite having never met us, Bernadette (O’Rourke) Cousins and her father, Tom O’Rourke (my DNA match) and the rest of their family, welcomed us into their home and even ferried us around the Mourne Mountain area, showing us the sites. Not only did they do that, but Tom’s wife, Magella, invited us to dinner where she served the most delicious stew as well as cake, ice cream and custard for dessert.

Tom and Bernadette were eager to show us around. They drove us to the Kilbroney Cemetery in Rostrevor so my sister could see our ancestor’s grave, then on to Hilltown, the Spelga Dam, the Silent Valley, the Catholic Cemetery in Kilkeel, Greencastle, then on a ferry ride across the Carlingford Lough and back. I have a new appreciation for the area where my ancestors were from — a small village named Killowen which is located in south County Down, on the edge of Cnocshee, a small hill that is part of the Mourne Mountains.

Continue reading “I experienced Irish hospitality in Northern Ireland”

Meeting my Irish family

Today I’m embarking on a trip to Ireland and I’m very excited because I will be meeting my O’Rourke relatives, my Irish family, for the first time.

Irish family
This is my Irish family. This was taken when another relative from the United States was visiting a few weeks ago (the woman in orange). Tom O’Rourke is the man in the blue shirt. Bernadette is in the photo at the top next to the woman in the orange shirt.

About this time last year, I was looking at new DNA matches on the FamilyTree DNA site when I came across a Mr. Tom O’Rourke. FTDNA estimated that Tom was a fourth cousin of mine. Figuring he was a man living in the United States, I got in contact with the administrator of Tom’s account who told me Tom was living in Ballintur, near Killowen, the same townland in Ireland where my great grandfather was born.

I was able to contact Tom’s daughter, Bernadette O’Rourke (now Bernadette Cousins), and we have been corresponding for a year. Bernadette lives on the property that is adjacent to my ancestor’s home. We’ve arranged a visit next week and I’m very excited to meet all of them.

Yes, they are distant relatives, but just to have a connection with a family that still lives where my great grandfather was born is very exciting to me.  I have been searching for an O’Rourke relative for a number of years. Last time I visited Ireland, I visited a third cousin, Kieran Waters. Kieran lives in Newry, Northern Ireland, a few miles west of where my great grandfather was born. I will be meeting with Kieran as well and am looking forward to seeing him again.

I will let everyone know how it turns out Continue reading “Meeting my Irish family”

Saying goodbye to County Down

Kilbroney Cemetery gravesit
Me at Kilbroney Cemetery

I had a heavy heart when I left Rostrevor, County Down yesterday morning. I was sad to leave because everyone was so good to me there. From the young lady (I don’t even know her name) who worked at the Old School House Café who helped me navigate the bus from Rostrevor to Mark Brennan who invited me to his home and shared the history of Killowen with me. In between there was Kieran Waters, my third cousin, who took me to the old O’Rourke homestead, Liam Baxter, proprietor of Rostrevor Holidays where I stayed, Roisin O’Neill, a distant relative who met me for lunch in Belfast, Annie Brennan, Mark’s wife, Rose Brennan, Mark’s daughter, and her fiancé, David.

Before left, I stopped by the Old Kilbroney cemetery and took one last look at my ancestor’s gravesite and found someone had left flowers. I only wish I knew who because perhaps it’s another relative. I had a maintenance man take my photo with the stone. I don’t know if and when I will return, so I wanted to get one last look at it. Hopefully someday, I will be back.

Saturday evening, Mark picked me up and drove me around Killowen. We went by the primary school where my great grandfather would have gone to school. Of course, the building is modernized, but Mark explained it was the exact same floor plan and in the exact same spot as it was years ago. Mark also showed me the old dock on Carlingford Lough where my great grandfather most likely boarded a boat for Liverpool. The dock is no longer in use, but it is still there just outside of Rostrevor town. Continue reading “Saying goodbye to County Down”

The Cloughmore Stone: one of Rostrevor’s attractions

This is as much of the Cloughmore Stone I could get in a selfie.
This is as much of the Cloughmore Stone I could get in a selfie.

One of the wonderful things about Ireland and Northern Ireland is its appreciation for the outdoors. There are hundreds of places to hike, both on public land and through private land on public right-of-ways. Hikers are everywhere in Ireland as the Irish enjoy their walking.

I had the opportunity to hike to the Cloughmore Stone (pronounced Clockmore), atop a hill high about the village of Rostrevor. Legend has it that Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill in Irish) a giant mythical warrior, threw the 40-ton stone at the giant Ruscaire from across Carlingford Lough. For a better explanation of the legend go here: http://www.carlingfordandmourne.com/myths-and-legends/finn-mccool-and-the-cloughmore-carlingford-and-rostrevor

Continue reading “The Cloughmore Stone: one of Rostrevor’s attractions”

My trip to Crockshee (also known as Knockshee)

Me and Kieran.
Me and Kieran.

This trip is costing me a lot of money, but I don’t regret it for one minute. It is worth every penny. I had a fabulous day yesterday when I met an Irish cousin (third cousin) and set foot on the actual property where my great-grandfather John O’Rourke was born. The property is situated up a small road about two or so kilometers east of Rostrevor. It is at the side of a small mountain known as Knockshee (Fairy Hill).

The property has a great view of Carlingford Lough, a bay sits on the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Kieran Waters, a descendant of Francis O’Rourke, John’s brother, was kind enough to take me there. It was exciting to finally meet him as we have been corresponding through Facebook for at least a year. Not only did Kieran take me there, he also brought me photos, a family tree and a copy of our second great-grandfather’s (James O’Rourke) will written in 1903.

The O'Rourke house. I don't know when this photo was taken, but a long time ago.
The O’Rourke house. I don’t know when this photo was taken, but a long time ago.

In addition, he brought me a phone number of local historian of sorts – Mark Brennan. I am invited to Mark and his wife’s home for tea Saturday evening at half-six (6:30 in Irish). I am really looking forward to it. This is exactly what I wanted to do – meet the actual people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and learn about what life was and is like for them. When I left Ireland after my vacation two years ago, I knew I had to come back. My trip to County Down then had been mostly a failure. I failed to locate my great grandfather’s baptismal certificate and I was unsure if I found my ancestor’s grave in the local cemetery. I had gone to the cemetery my last night in Rostrevor at the urging of

The O'Rourke house after it had fallen into disrepair.
The O’Rourke house after it had fallen into disrepair.

my partner Toni who said I would regret it if I didn’t. It was not until I arrived home that I realized I had located my ancestor’s gravesite and I owe it all to ancestry.com and Lisa Cutshaw, a third cousin who resides in Monterey, Calif. For those who don’t know about ancestry.com, if an ancestor in your family tree matches another person’s tree, it notifies you. I was notified that my great grand uncle Francis O’Rourke matched Francis in Lisa’s tree. To make a long story short, I contacted her and she confirmed the gravesite I had found was my ancestors’.  She also told me where they had lived — a place known as Crockshee or Knockshee. I also had help from Deirdre McEvoy, an

Me in front of the house -- now rebuilt.
Me in front of the house — now rebuilt.

amateur genealogist from the Rostrevor/Killowen area. I made plans last September to revisit County Down. And yesterday I realized my dream – to meet an O’Rourke cousin and see where my family is from. Enjoy the photos.

The O'Rourke boys. Kieran thinks the man in the middle is my great grandfather, John.
The O’Rourke boys. Kieran thinks the man in the middle is my great grandfather, John.
The view from the house. -- Carlingford Lough.
The view from the house. — Carlingford Lough.
Behind the house, looking at Knockshee.
Behind the house, looking at Knockshee.

I don’t want to go to Londonderry (Derry)

Kilbroney River
Kilbroney River

Feckin’ roundabouts. Everywhere you drive in Ireland and Northern Ireland there they are. (Feckin’ is not a bad word. It’s what you say instead of the F word here.) You think you know where you are going then you come to a roundabout. First off, you have to remember to go to the left. It’s not too hard because you’re already on the left. Then you have to figure out which way you are going. If you can’t figure it out, you can drive around in circles until you do.

There are other things that drive me crazy about driving in Ireland. People just park any which way. You don’t know if you’re going down a one way street or not. Then cars are parked halfway in the street. It’s up to you to go around them. Another car might be coming in the opposite direction.

My journey to Rostrevor through the roundabouts

I woke up yesterday to a windy, cloudy and rainy day. I wasn’t looking forward to driving the 192 kilometers to Rostrevor, but what choice did I have? Luckily, it never rained really hard and I figured out how to use the windshield wipers pretty quickly. I got gas (or petrol as it’s called here) in a small town called Milltown just a few miles outside of Sligo. I could hardly understand the girl the counter. She was asking me if I got petrol or diesel. When I couldn’t make it out, so I just pointed to the pump. Continue reading “I don’t want to go to Londonderry (Derry)”

My most amazing day in the home of the O’Rourke clan

Creevelea Abbey
Creevelea Abbey

Today was my best day so far in Ireland. For one, it didn’t rain. Well, it didn’t rain significantly. It was windy and cold and a few drops fell from the sky, but I can’t have everything, can I? The other reason is that I finally fulfilled a long-time dream of mine — to travel to Breifne, where the O’Rourke clan originated.

After spending for days in Dingle, I was off by bus to Sligo in northwest Ireland. I woke up Sunday morning in Dingle and it was pouring — really coming down. Since Sunday was a travel day, I wasn’t too disappointed.  I got completely soaked walking to the bus stop because I was too cheap to take a taxi (it was only three or four blocks away). The wind was howling so hard it turned my umbrella inside out and it broke. I deposited in the trash at the SuperValu (that’s how it’s spelled) in Dingle. I can buy another one. There’s no umbrella shortage in Ireland.

The trip on Bus Eireann took 10 hours and I changed buses three times. I had two layovers of 90 minutes — one in Tralee and another in Galway. By the time I got to Galway, it had stopped raining. The last leg — from Galway to Sligo took two and a half hours and we stopped at every one-horse (or one sheep) town along the way. When I arrived in Sligo at 8:20 pm, my hotel was right next door to the bus station. Continue reading “My most amazing day in the home of the O’Rourke clan”

Rain, rain, go away

I woke up this morning and it was raining again. That makes five of the first seven days I have been in Ireland it has been raining. There is nothing I can do about it, but make the best of it. Even the Irish hate how much it rains here and you’d think they’d be used to it.

Yesterday, however was a beautiful day. Irish eyes were smiling. In my last post I wrote about the advantages of traveling alone. Well as I found out, there are some disadvantages. I wanted to take a tour of Slea Head and it’s recommended if you have a car to drive it. I don’t have a car and don’t plan to rent one until next week, if at all. The hard core cycle the Slea Head drive and some even walk it, but cycling would take all day and I was not prepared to walk it. So I tried to book a tour. Well, the tours need at least three people to book or they don’t go.

Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula.


I was really going to be disappointed if I didn’t get out there on Slea Head, so I did something I wouldn’t normally do. I offered to pay for three people even though I was the only one going. It was a little pricey, but I’m sure I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. It was cheaper than renting a car.

I'm standing on the westernmost point in Europe.
I’m standing on the westernmost point in Europe.

Anyway, it was fabulous. I had my own private tour guide — Frank. Frank stopped where I wanted and stayed at places as long as I wanted. He also took several photos of me at the various sites. And it was a glorious day. I only wish I had remembered to take a photo of Frank. We stopped at beaches, piers, megalithic and early Christian sites. I love old stuff, especially old things in Ireland. The tour took three hours and we looked at beehive huts, an old church, Celtic crosses more than a thousand years old and had stunning views of the western coastline. If you’d like to read more about megalithic Ireland, this is an excellent site: http://www.megalithicireland.com/

Traveling alone in Ireland is not so bad

Deidre McEvoy
Deidre McEvoy

Before I took this trip, I was nervous about traveling alone. I’ve never traveled by myself and was worried whether I’d get lonely. But I just felt I needed to do it alone. For one, I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Toni and I travel well together, but we are different people and like to do different things. Sometimes I just like to sit in a cafe and people watch and to Toni that feels like she’s not doing anything. She needs to move around and see something, or she feels like she’s not getting her money’s worth. She also doesn’t talk much to other people she doesn’t know and I enjoy it.

So far this has been the best experience. I have met so many people that I otherwise would have never talked to if I had traveled with another person or more.

To begin with, I had dinner the other night in Dublin with Deidre McEvoy. Deidre is an amateur genealogist from Rostrevor, where my O’Rourke family came from. She does genealogy for lots of people, particularly Americans searching for their Irish roots. She was able to send me lots of information, including the names of my third and fourth great grandfathers. (By the way, they were both named John — John Jr. and John Sr. My great grandfather is also named John.) Continue reading “Traveling alone in Ireland is not so bad”

Sleep and sunshine

Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland
Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland

Sleep and sunshine are beautiful things. I got both yesterday. Today I’m not so lucky. I’m OK in the sleep department, but it is raining again. I have to remember this is Ireland. There is a reason it is so green and the the rivers are so full of rushing water.

After feeling like a zombie for the first two days, I finally slept a full night Sunday night. I spent Sunday looking in stores, but I didn’t buy anything. I also went to two museums — the National Gallery and the National Archaeological Museum. There didn’t seem to be a lot of art in the Gallery. It appeared to be undergoing a remodel of some sort. I think I might have missed a wing of the gallery or something, but the art I did see was quite good. I had a wonderful vegetarian lunch at restaurant called The Farm, then headed over to the Archaeological Museum. It is one of my favorite museums. I was there on my last trip, but I had to see the Bog People again. Continue reading “Sleep and sunshine”