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.
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”→
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.
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
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
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.