I dreamed of someday going to Ireland and exploring my ancestry. But I am afraid to fly; not only because of feeling trapped in a plane high in the sky over the ocean but because of the pain I have experienced in my ears on domestic flights.
Can you believe it, this past November my husband got me on an airplane? And it did not require knocking me out. Just painkillers, nasal spray, decongestant, chewing gum, hard candies, a small teddy bear to clutch, and a prescription for an anxiety pill, nothing drastic. The ear pain was still present, and the nervous shaking was only subdued by continuous prayer.
This was my first trip outside the United States, and I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the people of Ireland.
We took this journey to launch a book I co-edited with two gentlemen from Dublin, Terry Moylan, and Padraig Turley. I met them through the internet when double-checking a fact about my ancestor, John De Jean Frazer, for the novel I am writing about him and his son-in-law, Thomas Clarke Luby.
Terry and Padraig were starting a book to republish the poems of Frazer, my third great-grandfather. My novel includes some of those poems and I had wanted to honor him myself and bring him out of the cobwebs and into the light. I was happy to accept the invitation to join these gentlemen on an eye-opening adventure.
The Complete Poems of John De Jean Frazer – the Workman Poet from Birr.
If you are interested, the book may be purchased from Ireland through: www.offalyhistory.com the 480-page book is softback at €20.
The three of us kept busy throughout the year. It was a huge undertaking.
Lou, my husband, and I arrived in Ireland on 11 November 2022. Terry offered to pick us up at the airport, and we accepted the generous offer. Upon approaching Dublin, the high winds prevented us from landing. We were diverted to Shannon. Terry had arrived at the airport by then and had to go home for about 4 hours before returning when our plane flew back to Dublin. Terry was waiting for us and over a cup of coffee we conversed, warming up to each other. He was unconcerned about the delay and his humor and dialogue set us both at ease. He pointed out the sights as he drove, and I knew my mouth was open in wonderment as I tried to take it all in. Later in the evening we visited Terry and Padraig with their wives, Pascale and Paula, and felt very welcome in their company and enjoyed a memorable evening making new friends.
Lou and I walked to Trinity College the next day and found it with a little direction from a kind nun we met along the way. The college tour was wonderful. I imagined my third great Uncle, Thomas Clarke Luby, being there in the 1840s. When I mentioned him to the guide he was interested and pointed out where Luby would have stayed before he graduated with his law degree.
When I walked into Trinity College Library, my breath was taken away by its vast array of books stacked high into the vaulted ceiling. If I could only have time alone there, I would enjoy reading and researching those old volumes. It is hard to imagine the treasures they must hold. And being a harpist, of course, I was elated to see the Brian Boru Harp.
Lou and I were fascinated by the streets and lovely old buildings we saw on our walk to Dublin Castle. We were a little lost and then wondered what the big, beautiful building was to our left. We laughed when we realized it was Dublin Castle! We walked in and signed up for the tour. Not only are the people of Ireland friendly, but we found the local Sea Gulls were welcoming also and dropped their greetings upon us. Thank you to the kind woman cleaning the lady’s room who helped clean me off.
I never imagined we would be walking down winding cobblestone streets as we found our way back toward our lodgings. I felt like I was back in time; back when my ancestors would have walked there.
We later dined at Devitt’s Pub. The food was hot and delicious, and we enjoyed the live music while watching all the people clapping, dancing, and having fun. When it was time to leave, we could not get through the crowd. Our server saw our dilemma, got in front of us, and with a shove of her elbows and hips, the crowd parted, and she got us through. Thank you for the great wait service. We laughed and had fun there.
Our friends were with us for the emotional visit to Glasnevin Cemetery where my ancestor, John De Jean Frazer, was buried in 1852. He died from the hardships of the famine and is buried with two of his young children and his sister. I looked upon his unmarked grave and tears formed in my heart. It hurt to hold them in. We hope to collect donations to give him a stone marker. Frazer is of historical importance, and we feel a Celtic Cross of distinction like others in the garden section would be appropriate.
The picture is Lou and I standing over the single orange rose I placed on Frazer’s grave. I felt joy being there, yet with a deep sadness inside because he lays in an unmarked grave. I held back tears, it was very emotional to also see the unmarked grave of his wife, Letitia. She died 20 years after him and is buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
Frazer was a widely read and published poet in his day and his writings were influential to the people who prayed for Irish independence. Over the years as other prominent men came along, Frazer slipped through the dust, and few remember him.
We then toasted Frazer with our friends at the Grave Diggers Pub. Not being a whiskey drinker, Terry bought me an Irish Cream so I could join in on the toast in the quaint old pub.
Throughout the week we explored Dublin. One day we walked through the antique district where shops offered beautiful antiques. Frazer was a cabinet maker by trade in Dublin and, silly me, I was hoping his spirit would whisper to me and say, “buy this, I made it”. But, if he did whisper, I did not hear. The dealers were kind and offered suggestions for our search.
Later in the day, we walked to Kilmainham Gaul where John Walsh, my 2nd great grandfather, spent time shortly after marrying Frazer’s daughter Mary. He participated in the 1867 uprising. The tour was quite interesting and the prison cell doors where they put Fenians had bolts and additional locks. The guide said it was because they were afraid of the Fenians. I stepped into a Fenian cell and felt a sense of sadness because John endured time there while his new bride waited at home. Yet I also felt pride in John Walsh standing up for his beliefs.
These pictures show the regular prisoner cell door and the Fenians.
One day Padraig took us on a walkabout in Dublin. He was a wonderful, knowledgeable guide who knew exactly where to show us places my ancestors would have been. Delight spread across my face when Padraig showed us the site where The Nation newspaper was published. I felt like a child having found a lost toy. Frazer walked there once a week to submit his poems for publication.
We could not find his home on Jervis Street. Modern buildings lined the street, but we did see the church Frazer had worshipped in. It is now The Church Cafe. Lou and I returned there the next day for lunch. It still looks like a church, even with the organ pipes. There were many people dining, and I could almost feel Frazer’s presence as I looked around in awe and expected him to stand up and wave, “over here, you can sit with me.” We enjoyed a wonderful lamb stew, and I felt a little guilty eating while imagining Frazer sitting in worship, praying for his family and fellowman during the famine in the 1840s.
One evening we decided to tour the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street. It wasn’t far from Anna Walsh’s, my great-grandmother, birthplace. Padraig had provided us with the 1869 address. We found her street and looked for Number 4. The corner building was 7, but the next number was 22. Where was Number 4? The other direction? No, the street name changed. The sun was setting. The streets were eerily quiet. As darkness set in, we looked all around the intersection for Number 4. We finally found one, but not on the right street.
Years had gone by since Anna’s birth and even though much of Dublin stayed the same, much had changed. Anna’s address was one of those changes. We walked down the street toward the distillery, I looked back one last time and knew in my heart I was at least in the vicinity of her birthplace.
Padraig, Terry, and their wives took us on day trips. One trip was to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough where Frazer once sketched. I looked at the same skyline as he did and wanted to draw the same beautiful scene. It was tranquil there among the ruins of the centuries-old cathedral, tower, and gravestones. Our friends then took us to Bonelea, County Wicklow, to a stream where Frazer made other sketches. Two of them are included in our book reviving his poems.
The first book launch was on Friday, November 18 in Birr where Frazer was born in 1804. On our way, Paula stopped the car on the banks of the Little Brosna. This is the small stream where Frazer walked as a young man and wrote his well-known poem, “The Brosna Banks”. I also walked along the banks, and it was quite moving; I wanted to sit and write my poems as I watched the waters flow through the green tree-lined stream. Smiling, my heart pounded with excitement; I was there on the banks of the Little Brosna.
At the launch, I played a small, borrowed harp for Frazer’s poem “The Harvest Pledge” which was set to music. The melody was composed by the well-known Frank Callery. Nancy Gillan, my harpist friend, composed the baseline. I felt honored sitting there playing the poignant music as Terry Moylan read the poem with skill and emotion. Later Frank Callery beautifully sang Frazer’s poem, “Clondallagh”, which he had also put to music. Tears welled up in my eyes as I imagined my ancestor listening down from above, pleased with Frank’s understanding of his words with the perfect notes to express them.
The launch was held on the weekend of the Offaly County Heritage Seminar, and we participated in the walking tour of Birr. Seeing the town square I thought about Frazer’s poem “The Wild Ducks” who once swam in their moat around the center column. I walked along the street where Frazer apprenticed as a cabinet maker and as a treasure hunter, I was excited with every find.
My breath caught in my throat as I stood where it is believed he was born and read the plaque on the wall. There was a jeweller across the street, and I purchased a little silver charm as a keepsake of the area. Birr is enchanting, we enjoyed being there and I picked up a little rock to take Birr home with me.
Lou and I traveled by train to Galway and took a bus to the Cliffs of Moher. The view there was spectacular. The wind blew the waves against the scalloped shoreline as we breathed in the cold salt air. One warming moment was seeing a young man propose to his lady love and celebrate with Champagne from his backpack.
Galway was having their Christmas festival, and our hotel was near the town square. There were beautiful lights, lots of vendors, and music to enjoy along with the delightful sounds of children’s laughter. It was a great ending to a day of walking around the Spanish Arch, the Long Walk, and out toward the bay.
Lou and I also took a bus to Maynooth College in County Kildare. Originally St. Patrick’s Seminary, where my 2nd great grandfather, John Walsh, studied to be a preacher before his involvement in the Fenian movement. It was Sunday and only the library was open. The friendly graduate student at the desk seemed fascinated I had an ancestor who attended there long ago, and he was helpful in directing us to the oldest buildings. As we explored the quiet campus and walked through the fall leaves, I could imagine John Walsh studying and contemplating Ireland’s future.
One day, traveling back to Dublin we met PJ, a musician, and struck up a conversation. A few days later he showed up at the second book launch in Tullamore. Then we ran into him, by coincidence, in the two different pubs we visited before and after dinner that evening. We enjoyed PJ’s company as he sat with the six of us, Terry, Pascale, Padraig, Paula, Lou, and I, and played his instrument while singing. I was impressed with his musical talents and kindness.
In Dublin, Lou and I went to the National Concert Hall to see the 80th Birthday performance of Phil Coulter. A composer and pianist we have enjoyed listening to for about 40 years. He was wonderful. I loved how he included the audience in singing “Steal Away” and I heartily sang along. I purchased his autobiography and sat next to him for a picture at his book signing. I was thrilled.
On our last night in Ireland, we had dinner with our friends. Afterward, we went to O’Donoghue’s Pub where PJ sometimes plays. He was not there but Frank Nugent was, a friend of Terry’s and Padraig’s. The pub was crowded so we went to another famous old pub, Doheny & Nesbitt Public House. There we learned Frank was a mountaineer and deputy leader of the first Irish ascent of Mt. Everest in 1993. We enjoyed an evening of friendship, song, and laughter. Before leaving there the pub’s bartender had Lou and I stand behind the original 1867 bar and took our picture as Lou pulled the tap for Guinness Beer.
Overall, it moved me to see places John De Jean Frazer wrote about in his poems and to walk where he had walked. The people of Ireland are friendly, kind, and generous. Our days were fun, and we enjoyed Terry breaking out in song or reciting poetic lines to punctuate the moments. Michael Byrne of the Offaly Historical Society and Michael Donegan of Birr spoke warm words of introduction at the book launches and Michael invited Lou and me into his home for tea after touring us around Tullamore. One of the best parts of our trip was the friends made along the way. Ireland is a beautiful country not only in nature but in its hospitable people as well.
We hated to leave Ireland. But with their music still playing in our hearts we are home with wonderful memories and friendships. My dream of going to Ireland has had its beginnings and I now dream of returning.
Many thanks to Laurel Grube for this lovely piece and to her and her co-editors for all their voluntary work for Birr and Ireland. Thanks to Offaly County Council and Creative Ireland for support for the publication and to Michael Donegan and the staff of Birr Library for the launch. It was a great launch and is a great work. Editor