Ireland holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. My grandfather was from Tubberclair, Ireland, not far from Athlone. He left Ireland for New York City in search of a better life leaving behind his family and friends. Can you imagine getting on a boat that would take several days to arrive in the United States? Knowing that it was possible that you may get sick and never arrive. Traveling to a country you don't know much about, he had no family or friends in the United States. There was no television, or internet to see pictures or hear stories about his destination. Wow! I'm not that brave, but thankfully he was.
Ireland was important to my family. When my parents heard about The Children's Friendship Project it piqued their interest. The separation of Northern and Southern Ireland impacted my grandfather's life. My parents decided they wanted to get involved in the Project. The Children's Friendship Project was started by a woman and her husband in Pennsylvania. It brought one Catholic and one Protestant child to the United States for six weeks over the summer. We first hosted kids when I was 16 years old. Over the next several years we hosted several children from Northern Ireland. The goal was for kids to spend time in a more religiously neutral place to encourage friendships and see past religious divides. To say this positively changed my life would be an understatement.
The two girls that first came over became my lifelong friends. They came to stay with us two summers in a row. I then went over several summers and stayed with them. We have been back and forth between Northern Ireland and the U.S. since we were teens. If you have ever seen Derry Girls on Netflix this is about the time frame they came to the U.S. and I first went to Ireland.
I went to Northern Ireland this past summer to visit my friends. When I thought back to when I was 18 years old and visited, and how much had changed in Northern Ireland I was so moved. When I first visited Northern Ireland if we went to the south we had to go through armed checkpoints at the border. There was a military presence in every town. As a young American, it was a different experience for me.
When I crossed the border with my daughter this summer we barely noticed that we crossed into the North, other than the change in road signs. All the border crossings were shut down. I heard from both sides that they believe Ireland will be united again. I almost cried. Ireland was divided into two separate governing bodies in 1921. My grandfather left Ireland in 1928. Here I was with his great-granddaughter in his home country, 101 years after the country was divided and there is the possibility of a United Ireland. I felt like I was a small part of history. What would my grandfather think? It gave me chills.
So today think of your ancestors, what sacrifices did they make for you and the generations before and after you? Would you be as brave as they were? We all have our own stories, each is unique and important.
I am thankful that my grandfather was brave enough to get on that boat as well as to have such a unique experience with wonderful friends in Northern Ireland. I could have never learned as much about the "troubles" in Ireland from a book. My friends and their parents taught me so much about a wonderful country filled with wonderful, funny, and kind people. Today I hope my "Pop" looks down on us happy to see we appreciate his sacrifices. Happy St. Patrick's Day.