Wednesday 26 June 2019

Feeling right at home... 3,000 miles away

Maria Nolan with the Mayor of St John's in Newfoundland, Des O'Keeffe
Maria Nolan with the Mayor of St John's in Newfoundland, Des O'Keeffe
John Ennis and Maria Nolan with the Bishop of St John's Martin Curry
Maria with author Gary Browne at the Bishops Palace St. Johns
Officer Jim Clifford of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with Maria at North Bank Lodge
The picturesque harbour of St John's Newfoundland

Maria Nolan

We are all accustomed with the phrase 'There's no place like home'. Well I am going to tell you that there is one place like home - and it is called Tallamh An Eisc, or Newfoundland.

Ireland's other Island is separated from us by 3,000 miles of ocean but 'that little bit of water' is all that separates us, in every other aspect we are the same. We look the same, we speak with the same accents, we play the same tunes, we dance to the same beat, we laugh at the same jokes and we even tell the same tall tales.

It is uncanny how much alike we are. We are the same people we all come from the same pod and you cannot totally appreciate this until you actually go to Newfoundland and experience it for yourself.

This 'cradle of Ireland in North America' has Doyles, Kellys, McGraths, Kinsellas, Powers, Sweetmans, Roches, Devereux, Pierces, Murphys, Griffins, Nevilles, Kavanaghs, O'Briens, Mac Carthys and more.

It's place names include Yellowbelly Corner, Bunclody Street, Doyles Rd, Halls Lane, Tobins Road, Mc Donald Drive, Morrissey Drive, O'Rourke Lane... I could go on and on and on the list is endless.

From the moment you set foot on Newfoundland soil you will immediately feel at home. The people are warm, welcoming and friendly with a wonderful sense of place and tremendous pride in their Irish heritage. They are a sturdy, hard working, gregarious, fun loving, smiling people and it is a joy to be in their company and spend time with them. Their values are faith, family, friends and fun and everything revolves around their homes and the community.

I have just returned home having spent 10 days on the Avalon Pennisula on what is known as the Irish Loop and the hospitality and similarity has to be seen to be believed.

A group of 48 people travelled from the counties of the South East - Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford as part of the Ireland/Newfoundland Connections 2015 and were blown away by the experience. These long, lost relatives opened their homes and their hearts to us and everywhere we went we were greeted with wide smiles, warm embraces and lashings of food.

Civic Receptions and functions were held in our honour in Trepassey, St. Shotts, Holyrood, Riverhead, Quidi Vidi and Torbay. We were greeted by Mayor Joan Power and welcomed by former Canadian Ambassador Loyola Aherne to the Fr. Peter Golden Hall in Trepassey where the local community put on the most delicious array of traditional dishes for us and where the fog is so constant and thick that one man told me he didn't see his mother until he was 8 years old!

In Riverhead we joined the Power Clan and Community activist Sheila Lee who were gathered together to unveil a bench and a board to the late Fr. Val Power and we were presented with a Canadian Flag for Enniscorthy by Senator Fabian Manning.

In the picturesque Quidi Vidi we were joined by the Irish Ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett and the Mayor of St. John's Des O'Keeffe whose ancestor left the Hook Pennisula for Newfoundland. The event was covered by Newfoundland TV and went out on the national airways later that evening and I was delighted to be interviewed by the lovely Kate Breen to talk about the Irish/Newfoundland connections.

At Bay Bulls we were taken on a wild and wonderful boat trip on the Atlantic Puffin by O'Briens Boat Tours and although Minky Whales were sighted by the Captain we failed to catch up with them however we did get lucky enough to spot a majestic juvenile Bald Eagle on Cape Spear whilst the Skipper and John Ennis entertained us with sea shanties as we rocked and rolled with the waves.

Bishop Martin Curry opened his Residence beside St. John's Bascilia to us in the Capital City where we were once again wined and dined and got the opportunity to meet author and former Chief of Police Gary Browne who has written several books on WW1 including one entitled Fallen Boy Soldiers. Gary gave a lecture on Patrick Thomas Nangle a Catholic Priest from St. John's who spent the war in the frontline trenches with the Boy Soldiers. Patrick Thomas Nangle's ancestor left from Wexford for Newfoundland circa 1800's and this national hero is soon to be honoured in the Capital. I spoke with Gary and said that I knew of Nangles in Wexford and he said they would be very excited if a family connection could be established here.

So Nangles please get in touch asap.

Shepparded throughout by the excellent members of the St. John's Committee Chairman Kyran Dwyer, Bob Gillard, Michelle MacCarthy and Theresa Nash McGrath we visited the home of Aloy O'Brien in the Freshwater Valley where 4 generations of O'Briens lived up to the death of Aloy in 2008. I was delighted to see the work being done on the restoration of his home and even more delighted to meet with Prof. John Mannion and his lovely wife Maura and son Patrick who thrilled me with records of over 50 people from Enniscorthy who settled in Newfoundland - some dating back to 1798. The Irish Government have just awarded a grant of €150,000 to have John Mannion's 7,000 Irish records digitised and work is beginning in the near future on the project but I couldn't wait that long so I asked Prof. Mannion if he would email the list to me and he agreed! Wouldn't it be something to link up a family in Enniscorthy and one in Newfoundland, particularly one that left circa 1798.

Watch this space!

At beautiful Torbay we were met and welcomed by Mayor Ralph Tapper who hosted a Reception for us at Torbay Council Chambers where along with Councillor Pat Nugent of Waterford County Council they performed a twinning ceremony between Dungarvan and Torbay. We were treated that evening to a Shed party at the fabulous home of Ross and Marcie Travers and that was what you'd call a party! About 250 Irish people - some from Ireland and the rest from Newfoundland danced and sang it out until the early hours.

The Torbay Committee under Chairman Derrick Dymond hosted a Newfoundland Irish Economic & Tourism Conference and I was very fortunate to link up with Allison Dancey from Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development and Anne St. Croix, Cultural Tourism Specialist, both of whom had many interesting and innovative ideas to enhance communities on each side of the pond. With the very special links and connections and with both Islands working together the tourism scope is endless and exciting going forward. Torbay finished up with a fantastic Dinner Theatre at the indoor Hockey arena and the Closing Ceremony - both of which were completely sold out - such is the appeal that Irish visitors hold on this our 'other Ireland'.

Something else that I noticed in my travels was a reference to Mummers in the Souvenir Shops. Newfoundland has a Mumming tradition which could have only come from Wexford and has survived through the generations. Speaking of coming from Wexford, I was seated at a function in Riverhead making some notes when a rather large, bearded Newfoundlander leaned over and said 'Can I borrow your pen for a minute Hun!' No marks for guessing where his people came from!

Among these generous, unpretentious people of Irish descent I observed our own Irish group become connected once again with their own Irishness. The Newfoundland Irish have truly become more Irish than the Irish themselves and in some way brought us back through the generations and gave us back the gift of being Irish - a feeling or a state of mind that may have been lost here in Ireland in recent times.

The Ireland that travelled with their ancestors across the ocean hundreds of years ago has been protected and preserved and continues to be cherished, valued and nurtured in this little piece of Ireland off the coast of Canada.

This unique migration has resulted not in a scattering but in a cultural distillation that has survived the passage to time.

This is more than a holiday this is a life experience and I would encourage any Irish person to visit but particularly those from Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford - these Newfoundlanders are of your people, they were spawned where you were spawned, the same kindred blood courses through their veins - but don't take my word for it - go and see for yourself - with direct flights daily from Dublin to St. John's with West Jet it is a must see and one for the Bucket List!

My thanks to the Ireland/Newfoundland Committee for organising the trip in particular to Eamonn Murphy, Mary Murphy and Wally Kirwan who has been to Newfoundland no less than 35 times and who was instrumental in setting up the connection between the two countries back in 2006.

Next year our Newfoundland cousins will come to Ireland for 9 days and we look forward to a full Programme of Events including a 1916 Re-enactment in Enniscorthy.

Enniscorthy Guardian