It’d be fair to say that the Irish have always had a bit of a wanderlust. Which goes someway to explaining why Irish Genealogy is so popular.
Sometimes, our travel has been caused more by necessity than the desire to see new sights. Although I guess if your sights at home were as horrific as in say, the time of the Great Irish Famine, it’d give you a bit of a desire to put your eyes on fresh horizons too.
We hear a lot about the 70 million Irish diaspora world-wide, and though it’s not easy to see how exactly that figure was calculated, it seems to be based on the folk who self-identify as ‘of Irish descent’. Is that you?
Obvious part first, do your research at home. Get together with family members (if you can) and see what you’ve got – stories from Grandma and Aunty Mary, and any written or printed materials like letters, wills, diaries, photographs, and certificates.
You can access many of your country’s genealogical record repositories online, and you can get advice from your local library on birth, death and marriage records held by civil authorities, as well as where to find census returns, city directories, church records (baptism, marriage), gravestone inscriptions, newspaper obituaries, wills, naturalisation papers and passenger lists.
All set now for a trip to Ireland? Great!
If you don’t know a home county, town or parish for your ancestor/s yet, and you want to carry out your own research here, start in Dublin city with the National Library of Ireland (check them online at www.nli.ie), the National Archives (with a free genealogy advice service) and the General Register Office research room which may hold the birth, marriage and death records of your Irish ancestors.
You can also check the census database (for 1901 and 1911) at www.censusnationalarchives.ie, the database of church records for parts of counties Dublin, Cork, Kerry, and Carlow at www.irishgenealogy.ie, and the database of Griffith’s Valuation property survey from the mid 1800’s at www.askaboutireland.ie.
If you’d prefer some professional support, the county genealogy centres (search for ‘Roots Ireland’ to find them) can be useful, though some counties’ staff are better than others. Better is the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI) is an all-Ireland professional body, with members based in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Professional genealogists and records agents will access the sources in the Dublin and Belfast repositories for you, while county genealogists will carry out research using their county databases of parish records, land records, graveyard inscriptions and census returns, as well as using local knowledge and contacts to pinpoint that elusive Irish ancestor.
All of this will, hopefully, lead you to the place your Irish ancestors left from.
Visiting your Irish family’s place is a very special experience – walking where they walked, seeing the house they were born in, the graves of their people, the church they worshipped in, the pub they drank in, and the village or town where they went about their day to day business.
That is an incomparable experience, and well worth the research and time it takes to get you there.
Ok, so legally, you can’t. Or at least, you can’t in most places.
In the Wicklow Mountains National Park, wild camping is allowed (with sensible restrictions), except in Glendalough. You can check information on this area here.
A lot of folk camp on the beaches of Ireland, and some are more favourable than others. Fallmore near Belmullet in Mayo, Baginbun Beach near Feathard in Co. Wexford, and Wine Strand or Ventry Beach along the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry are all recommended, though I’ve not camped on any of them personally.
Generally, you have to be aware of trespassing on private land. If there’s a spot you’d really love to camp at, knock on the door of the nearest house and ask who owns it, then ask for permission. Offering a wee donation is always a good idea.
State owned land is technically public property, but the rangers and lifeguards and such obviously get first say in what you can and can’t do there. For beaches, there’s legal access to the foreshore – which means ‘the bed and shore, below the line of high water of ordinary or medium tides, of the sea and of every tidal river and tidal estuary and of every channel, creek and bay of the sea or of any such river or estuary. The land above this can be privately owned so if you have to cross above the median High Water mark you may be trespassing.’ (Further Info)
For his birthday one of the years, my son asked for a family camping trip, “away from people”. His requirements were a river, and trees. And no people. Did we mention no people? He was very clear.
I hadn’t done a wild camp in many years, so, cue frantic research scramble to see if the laws had changed. Not a lot, it turns out.
We were leaving from Dublin on Friday afternoon, and had to do the food shopping first… so somewhere within 2 hours drive of the capital was necessary, to ensure that we had time to find a place, park safely, hike (with all the gear) to a suitable spot away from the road, pitch the tent and set up camp before dark.
Wicklow Mountains camping was out for me, with the boy along. To be honest, I’m still hearing there’s a rash of break-ins to cars at popular parking spots – look for broken glass on the ground around any intended parking to check if there’s been windows broken there recently. It’s also a popular spot for a gang of lads to get cans and head out to of a Saturday night, for drunken fun and frolics.
None of that seemed like a recipe for a peaceful family trip, or an enjoyable birthday for him, so we went a little further afield.
I’m not going to say exactly where – the internet is full of horrible people after all, as well as all you lovely types – but what I did was choose a general location with national parkland (it was the Slieve Bloom Mountain region for us this trip), and source a few potential parking spots around an area I liked the look of.
We headed out, drove about a bit and found a nice spot at the head of a trail. Parked up, did a recon mission and found a place where folk had camped before (slightly flattened land and the remains of a fire pit) in a river valley that was, admittedly, a horrible hike to and from the car – but is absolutely gorgeous.
Site chosen, we hiked back up to the car, loaded up the essentials for the camp set up and first night (it took two trips), and pitched the tent. We had to re-set the fire pit a little, and I double lined it to prevent scorched earth around it. I dug a small trench latrine or ‘cathole’ away from the tent site, and even further from the river, and we’d brought water for our drinking, washing and cooking in 5L containers.
We didn’t light a fire that evening, and were absolutely eaten by midgies, and wrecked from travelling and set up, so it was an early night, with the sounds of the river burbling nearby, and wind through the treetops to lull us to sleep.
If you’re going to attempt a trip like this, there’s a few things you should know…
All campers should aspire to minimising their impact on the environment by conforming to the following code of conduct:
Catholes for disposal of human waste must be located at least 30m away from watercourses and 50m from walking routes. Human waste must be buried or carried out of the site. No evidence of latrine use should remain visible. All toilet paper and hygiene products must be carried out.
Campfires are not permitted in the National Parks. The issuing of permits for campfires is suspended pending review.
Failure to comply with this code will result in withdrawal of permission to camp. In such cases National Park Rangers will demand that the visitors break camp.
As with most things, it all boils down to common sense, and respect.
Just don’t be a dick, ok?
(There’s a presumption that American Tourists are) …insensitive rude people who think the only way to do things properly is their way. This presumption isn’t limited to Irish People of course. But I find I have to prove myself to not be “one of those Yanks” before people will trust me and open up. However, it is ALWAYS worth the effort. – My friend Kass McGann, of Reconstructing History.
We’ve all met them.
The ones who make us cringe a little inside. The ones who presume we’re idiots and proceed to explain how things should be done right. The ones who are loud and brash and rude.
But, #NotAllAmericans… amirite?!
Actually, yeah. Thankfully that stereotypical USA Tourist in Ireland is only a sliver of the tourism trade here – we had 1,294,000 total visitors from the USA in 2016. They weren’t all insensitive eejits, or we’d have had a feckin’ riot on our hands like. There’s only so many times a proud people can bear being called cute or quaint.
So, for those of you travelling to Ireland who have a genuine love and respect for the land and people, who would love to seriously connect here… how do you do it right?
Ok so this one could fall into the category of giving your Irish hosts a wee ego stroke, coz we do love the sound of our own voices, for the most part. Fair enough.
But it’s also about hearing the stories. Given half a chance, most Irish folk will blether away for hours with story after story, all leading into each other and weaving round in a fierce tangle of history, culture, experience, and plain old gossip.
It’s actually amazing when you catch someone in a good flow and just leave em off. They’ll chat for hours, especially if there’s drinks to hand to whet the whistle a wee bit and keep things flowing smoothly.
And not just one to one either. Take a bus, or go sit in a busy cafe or pub up at the bar. As a writer, and someone genuinely fascinated by people – I do this a lot. Irish people are most often emotive, and passionate, and so feckin’ funny you’ll be hard pushed not to give away your eavesdropping by cracking the fuck up laughing.
You’ll learn a lot when you listen.
My friend Kass again, she reckons this is the way to go. She explained:
acting like you’re a guest in someone else’s house is a good idea. I think we Americans go about the world with a “customer is always right” attitude and that doesn’t help when you’re trying to get to know another culture. I once knew a man in an Irish guest house who went into the landlady’s kitchen UNINVITED to “teach her how to make eggs properly”. I could have cried. I was completely embarrassed even though I didn’t know the guy.
Yeah, all of us working in tourism have met that guy.
Things are gonna be different in another culture. Sometimes, really really different. AND THAT’S OK. It will happen, so just go with it.
You’re (hopefully) travelling here to experience Irish culture, not try to turn it into American culture. We eat our fucking eggs differently, ok? (Um, some of us also curse a lot, in case you hadn’t noticed. Best get used to that one too.)
Don’t be that guy.
Hospitality is a big deal in Ireland.
Like, a really big deal. I’m not sure how to emphasise this appropriately enough, so you should go an watch Mrs. Doyle’s Best Bits. You don’t feel like it? But sure, whyever not? Go on and watch her now. Ah you will. Go on, Go on, Go on. Go On.
There now. See what I mean?
The thing is though, when someone offers, it’s polite not to snatch the hand off them for a sandwich or a cuppa, no matter how starving or parched you’re feeling. You do the polite refusal. Then they ask are ya sure? You might think you’re safe enough to say yes the second time… but no. You politely refuse again. It’s only on the third time, when they ask are ya REALLY sure, then you can say “Ah go on so, I will, thanks”.
I don’t know why. It’s just how it’s done.
Oh, and don’t forget the crucial thing when this happens in a pub situation. Someone in a group will be feeling flaithulach and get a round in. Yes, I know ye all said ye’d stay on your own and not buy into getting rounds of drinks. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes. Unless you’re stingy, and nobody wants to be stingy.
So, even if you’re still, really, definitely not getting into rounds… you HAVE to buy that person a drink back. Yup, even if they don’t ever wet their lips with it. You just have to.
On that note… Take this Test and figure out if you’re Stingy or Flaithulach, so you can be prepared for these things. You might want to warn folk.
It’s for the best.
For a decade, I guided at and professionally managed a major Irish spiritual/sacred site; a vast archaeological complex of sites actually, with a ceremonial history stretching back as long as there have been people on this island. I started as a part time tour guide there, many moons ago, and I’m still requested to guide many of the ‘Spiritual Tourism’ groups and individuals who visit Rathcroghan.
There’s two sides to the ethical issue around all this.
First: my own boundaries and guidelines. Spiritual guardianship of these sites is very much a part of the ‘work’ I do for my matron deity here (that would be the Mórrígan), right along with the instruction to “get real information out there”. I have a very personal deep down connection to this place, to these energies, stories, and gods… so it’d be very tough for me to coldly take cash and pimp out my paganism to gullible groups. On the other hand, there are so many genuine seekers coming here, more each year, and if I’m not helping them find a genuine experience, somebody else will.
So, I have to walk a very careful line between giving too much of my personal spiritual self to strangers, and supporting them in their journey, as is my job (both everyday mundane, and in a priestess capacity).
Second: there’s the community I work in. The Visitor Centre I managed there is a local community initiative, with a voluntary board of directors, and it’s often tough for them to understand all the facets of the spiritual side of our business. ‘Spiritual tourism’ is still a fast growing sector, with the highest spend per visitor of any other special interest group, so they can see the practical side to marketing this aspect carefully and responsibly. However, when I ever held spiritual events there, or featured in the media for this market, there was – every time – a local kerfuffle in the community with regard to the “witch that runs the centre”, or for example after our international ‘Goddess Gathering’ on year, I had to deal with open hostility from a particularly short sighted, narrow minded, ignorant fool of a local politician – because I “brought witches to the village”. The fact that the available accommodation was booked out 3 towns over, and the pubs did a roaring trade all weekend, was apparently less important to him than that.
Petty politics aside – there’s a balance to be kept there too, this is after all their place more than mine, and without community support and involvement we’re at nothing. Money talks, as they say, so it’s been up to me during my professional career to make the case for commercial and economic benefit in supporting the spiritual tourism market.
It’s not been easy, I must admit, but my attitude – both personally and professionally – has always been to make the case openly that Paganism is not wrong, or indeed even very different to the Ireland of not so long ago, and to be an open door as far as people’s questions or concerns need to be addressed. We’re not doing anything wrong here, quite the opposite in fact… and slowly, slowly, the Irish communities are changing.
All of that shifts and changes dramatically when you introduce spiritual tourism which does not consider the native community or landscape, does not support or integrate the local thoughts and experience, and in fact is merely there to add an air of false authenticity to their cultural appropriation and commercialised, shallow nonsense.
This stuff is complicated, and sensitivity to the indigenous climate and community concerns is essential. If you’re coming on a tour to Ireland, please choose your operator carefully. Question them before you give them your money, on how much is going to support the native guides, resources and communities from which they are profiting.
Don’t be involved in the pillaging of native energies or resources.
That’s not very fucking spiritual now is it?!