Anyone who follows me on social media could not possibly have escaped that I recently spent two weeks in Ireland. At the risk of making you all dive under the covers screaming, “Enough,” I plan to spend this week blogging about the stories stirring within us and their sources.
Writers are frequently asked where they get their stories. Author Hallie Ephron is particularly adept at pointing to the source of her latest book (Careful What You Wish For), which has to do with a couple on different sides of the Marie Kondo wave. Another came from a house where she went to a yard sale.
But beyond the source of a specific story, there lies the more general concept of storytelling. The stories each human being carries within and the question about whether those stories get told and by whom.
I knew when I traveled to Ireland for the third time, it would be a different kind of journey. While I would enjoy the famous Cliffs of Mohr and the lakes and mountains of Connemara, I was in search of the stories of my Irish ancestors. In particular, two were haunting me. I was celebrating a “significant” birthday and felt an urgency to learn more about them, their people, and what that meant to my more immediate family.
I had half-listened to my father and my maternal grandmother when they went on and on about our family history, a bit bored and completely ignorant of the relevance. I had no idea how important their stories would become to me as I struggled to understand who I had become during my lifetime and why. How much is genetic? I was plagued by a variation of the question about which affects us more: nature or nurture, and how much of nature transcends generations.
I tried to be casual about my mission. On our second day in Ireland, we drove to Cobh, which I had only recently learned was the location of my great-grandfather’s farm. I’d only been told it was in County Cork, or that’s as much attention I’d paid to the details. But some research I did before traveling told me it was in Cobh (pronounced “cove”), which was formerly Queenstown, and Cove before that. Without more specific information, I was left to visit the heritage center right on the harbor where hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrated from and listen to some of their stories, including the ill-fated journeys of those upon the Titanic and Lusitania.
I stood on the same pier with my husband where my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother and my paternal grandmother had stood waiting to embark to a world completely unknown to them other than what they learned from the stories their relatives had sent in letters. Having my feet planted on the same dock looking up at the town that hasn’t changed much, I felt an odd physical connection with them. Yet I wanted more than to stand where they had. I wanted to know their stories and deeply regretted not feeling this way when there were living witnesses eager to share them.
We had two full weeks ahead of us to explore Ireland and an unusual hurricane was heading toward us, which made us speculate whether we were targets of stormy weather, given our history after Irma and Maria in the Virgin Islands. We said goodbye to Cobh and drove to Kinsale, a town we had visited before and reminded me much of Scituate, Massachusetts where we had lived for more than thirty years and where my maternal grandmother had settled.
But the story about my family in Cobh lingered. I felt I had unfinished business to attend, that I hadn’t done justice to the stories of my maternal grandmother and her courageous mother. I had begun to sense their stories swirled within me and had been integrated into my own. How could I leave Cobh without knowing more?
This isn’t the end of the story, you may have guessed. I’ll share more about the stories from Ireland stirring within me during the week and what they mean to me as a writer.
And, as the Irish might say, “What about yourself?” Is there a story sitting inside you, bigger than yourself, waiting to be told?