Monday, March 15, 2004

THe Search for Patrick Cronan continued

So off I went.

The weather in Ireland was good--so the Irish all said. I heard that over and over--”It could have rained every day”. It didn’t, although it rained a lot. There was lots of sun and blue skies and fresh breeze off the ocean. There were "soft" days when it misted. And "fresh days" when the wind blew and a sweater was need in July.

My first day there I was groggy from jet lag and I wandered around downtown Dublin which is really easy to walk around in if you’re not half asleep and lost. A man came up to me and asked me if I needed help and showed me where to find the tourist office. Then he asked me if I had relatives in Ireland. The Irish are very friendly, and I discovered they all ask whether you have relatives among the Irish. I told him about Grandpa Cronan and he said, “Oh, all the Cronans are in Cork”. Later in the day I see a tour bus which has on it, “The Cronins of Cork” I talk to the driver who said these people were all of the same family, touring Ireland.

My friend and I rented a car, not having any real agenda. We drove aimlessly at first and ended up in Donegal where we stayed in a bed and breakfast with a very sweet Mrs. Callahan--her house looked like Aunt Maud’s or someone’s of my grandfather's generation, filled with a hodge podge of ancient furniture, old covers on the sofa, worn blankets, doilies on the backs of chairs, knick-knacks everywhere, and pictures of relatives and children. We found out that her husband had just died. She had a very nice young man working for her, who had come home from college for the weekend because he missed his "mum" and his dog (my friend, Kathy, loved this and only wished her own son were like him). Her house looked out on Donegal Bay--a beautiful view which she never seemed to notice--the heavy lace curtains almost obscured it from us, but we could sit outside in the sun and walk down to the beach.

We began a circumnavigation of the country which isn’t hard to do--it isn't very big. We stopped for several days in Mayo county north of Galway. We found this lovely B and B run by an Irish woman and her British husband. It was on a lake near an 12th century church and a moss covered well that spoke of Celtic times and ancient spirits. There were horses and wide fields to walk through. The owners had traveled and so could talk about other places as well as the history of their own town and Ireland and they had tons of books to read and a wide windowed sun room to read them in. The wife joked that they had fought about everything in their married years and only agreed upon two things that neither of them liked--Christmas trees and flashing lights. He kidded her about having been raised by the nuns.

I found a book there with information on Cronans. There are two spellings as we know. The “Cronan” live around Tipperary and and “Cronin” live near Cork, but all Cronans are in southern Ireland and the southwest. These areas were the hardest hit in the famine. She had a books about the famine--it must have been horrible with whole families and towns wiped out, and sometimes no one to bury the dead. If we have Grandpa Cronan’s birth date right, he was born right after the potato crop had failed for several years in a row.

Cronan means “swarthy”. I found this fact annoying, but my friend thought it was funny. The Cronans are an ancient clan and of Celtic origin. I bought the coat of arms and description of famous Cronans.

It was here that I began to feel a connection between me and this man I never knew, but whose descendent I am. We Americans have so few stories about our ancestors because for the most part the immigrants wanted to forget where they came from and sever connections with the past for whatever reason. A new world. A new life.

I exporled the church yard where the earliest date was 1694 and I looked at tombstones hoping to find the name Cronin on one of them. It was a rainy, misty, "soft" day and my friend had gone to town to shop. Graveyards are quiet and peaceful places to explore. After wandering around, I sat on the stone wall and just stared. Then I noticed some plain rocks that marked graves with no name. In fact there was a whole area of the churchyard that was devoted to these nameless stones. It came to me that Patrick Cronan’s people would be in graves like this, unmarked and unnamed, if they had died in the famine and were buried at all, and that there was probably no hope of finding any trace of them--they had disappeared like the million others who died in that tragedy. That tragedy started the great Diaspora of Irish to America, and Patrick Cronan was one of a million who made it out alive. A wave a sadness swept over me there, I can’t explain it. Having just read the stories made it all so real to me. I felt the fragility of his young life--put on a ship in the worst conditions with hundreds of other poor peasants, leaving this green land to face the unknown in America. I felt grateful that I had returned to his native land to see it for myself. I felt some completion.

to be continued

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