Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

A copy of a letter of recommendation
that my paternal grandfather brought with him
from New Ross, Ireland to America when
he emmigrated in 1905 --

From left to right: my great-grandfather, Walter J. Clear,
1856-1939, from Ballyanne and later Mount Elliot,
County Wexford; my great aunt, Kit Clear; my great-
grandmother, Katherine Purtil Clear of Kilenard near
Cashel, County Tipperary. The photo was taken
in front of their house in New Ross, County Wexford.
When Paul and I visited New Ross a few years ago,
with advice from my uncle we were able to locate
the overgrown foundation of the house, long since
torn down.

My grandmother, Katherine Hourihan Clear,
1889-1985; and my grandfather Thomas A. Clear,
1884-1968, whose letter of recommendation appears
above --

So often, in this country of displaced heritages,
we hunger for these connections to people
and places long disappeared. An ocean and
a continent separates me from my ancestral
Irish roots, but a (relatively, in the scheme of things)
short plane ride allows me to settle-in to habits
and customs of a country left behind by my
grandfather over a hundred years ago. I met
my grandfather only once, when I was nine
years old. He sat in a wheelchair in a nursing home,
thin and crumpled, and pointed to my little sister,
and said one word: Walter: the name of my father,
his son, who had died six months prior to our visit.
And it's this same sister who is the spitting image
of my grandmother pictured in the formal portrait
above, this sister whose father passed away
before any impressions of him had become etched
in her memory.

It was my own late husband's unrealized dream to visit
Ireland, also the country of his forefathers (and foremothers!)
I would never have imagined that my life would end
up as it has, widowed, remarried to a wonderful man,
and, ironically, summers spent at our own Irish
"holiday home". In this I can claim my own rights
of possession. I can stake my hold on a shovelful of soil
that is as much mine as it is that of my grandfather,
my great grandmother, my late husband,
my dear sweet Paul, my children through whose veins
still courses the blood of centuries and centuries
of Celts, with all the passion and stoicism
and ever-present wit & song of the Irishman
perched at the bar, pint of Guinness in his hand,
with yet one more story to be told
before the night is over.

Beannacht Lá Fhéile Pádraig!


  1. Here, here.....I hail from the O'Kelly's myself......

  2. Ima: I raise my pint of Guinness to you!

  3. you've got my 4-leaf shamrock! (it's been carefully pressed in the miriam webster dictionary on the page with Silliman since 1975...)
    happy st paddy's day to you and your extensive family!

  4. beautiful post. the photos and letters are such treasures

    a belated happy st. patrick's day to you and yours!


  5. Still, Life: "profile not available"?
    Nice to see your beautiful face here.
    What shamrock are you referring to?!

  6. oh, wow. what a great letter! how wonderful you were able to find the house (or what's left of it). my grandmother was a monahagn; both of her parents emigrated from ireland. we know they were from ballybunion and also the athlone area in the midlands, but nobody has been able to trace them better than just in a general way.

    i don't know why they emigrated (though we can guess, of course) or what their lives were like in ireland (again, we can guess).

    loved this post!!

  7. Laurie, my husband's Irish relatives are from the Athlone area also. Do you have dual citizenship? I received mine a while back.

  8. Really like this as a St Pat's Day post (know I'm late). The photos & the letter are so evocative. Cool that you were able to find that old place in Ireland, if only the foundation.