A few years ago family members on my Dad’s side tracked our lineage and found we had Irish ancestry. Matthew McHugh, my great great great grandfather, lived in Derry/Londonderry with his first wife and their children. Two of his daughters left for the States in their teens and ended up starting families that ultimately carried Yonda blood.
My family has been in Ireland for the past few weeks, first to spend Christmas in Sligo and then followed by short stints in New Grange, Dublin and Kilkenny. Prior to visiting my Dad did some digging to find out more about Matthew McHugh and see if we could track down where he was buried in Derry so we could visit his gravesite. He found Matthew had actually left his first wife and moved to Castlederg, a border town in Northern Ireland that neighbors County Donegal, where he remarried and had a few more kids. My Dad was able to contact one of his descendants, Kathleen McHugh, and found out that much of the family still lives in and around Castlederg. Furthermore, Matthew is buried at their local church and his old homestead is still owned and maintained by the family. Through Facebook we organized to meet up with these long lost relatives for lunch and it turned out to be a major highlight of my trip.
We weren’t exactly sure who would be meeting us in Castlederg along with Kathleen but when we arrived at the restaurant there was a large group of McHughs that were eager to learn more about their American relations (below). All of them spoke about having large families of their own, most with grandchildren and some with great-grandchildren. They remembered their mothers worrying about the two girls that went over to the States so many years back, and if they knew their descendants had made it back to Castlederg they would surely be smiling down from heaven. One of the women brought old birth certificates and other family documents that they shared with us. So much of their lineage had been mapped out but they knew so little about us and other descendants from Matthew’s first marriage. To have the dots connected was very emotional for both sides and it reminded me how no bond is stronger than blood. We were only together for a few hours but it felt like we’d known them for years.
After lunch Kathleen took us to Matthew’s gravesite where we were met by her son, Kieran. Then we all traveled to her brother Tommy’s house where Matthew’s old homestead was. It was amazing how much it looked the same as when Matthew lived there. His old bed, fireplace, dresser, and even some of the farming equipment he used were untouched. According to the family he actually bled to death following a farming accident in the field right across the road from where we were standing.
I find myself marveling at the entire experience. Sport Changes Life chose me to represent the first class of Scholars sent Scholars to Sligo. I could be anywhere on the Emerald Isle yet I was placed 90 minutes from where my great great great grandfather rests. Some things are just meant to be.
As I approach the halfway point of my year abroad one of the things I’ve struggled with is being far way from my family. It gives me comfort knowing that I have some right up the road.