When I was a young girl I was always asked if I was Irish on account of my last name – O’Rourke. At first, I didn’t really understand the question. I was American. But my mother told me that indeed I was at least half Irish as my late father was born to Irish immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century. That was all I knew about my Irish family until I was in my late 40s.
St. Patrick’s Day would come once a year and all I knew about the holiday was that you must wear something green or risk getting pinched. Some people ate corned beef and cabbage, though my family never did. Others went to the bar and drank green beer. But most of my young life I was ignorant of about my Irish heritage because of my father’s early death and my subsequent estrangement from his family.
It’s only been the last 10 years that I’ve reclaimed my Irish heritage. Beginning with find my uncle and his family and learning where my great grandparents and grandparents came from, I’ve been taken on a journey of self-discovery. I now have found most of my father’s family – first cousins, second cousins and even some third cousins. I’ve made two trips to Ireland and am planning a third.
Discovering my family’s origins
I’ve located my great grandparents’ birthplace – County Down, Ireland and have visited the O’Rourke homestead in Killowen, Northern Ireland where “the Mountains of Mourne sweep out to the sea” – one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to. DNA testing has linked me to people still living just yards away from where my great grandfather was born.
On this St. Patrick’s Day I can say, yes I’m proud of my Irish heritage. I am Irish-American. I’ve been fortunate to be able to reconnect with my family and above all, meet the people of Ireland whom I’m related to.
I look forward to my next trip.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! (Happy St. Patrick’s Day).