Thursday, November 22, 2012

Irish Adventures, An Unexpected Visit in Kilkishen

I met my oldest and dearest friend, Meghan, when I was only 5 years old. We shared a kindergarten class, became fast friends, and have shared a lifetime of friendship ever since. I spent almost as much time with Meghan's family during my childhood as I did my own. We were inseparable, and split our time among our two houses, both of us becoming an extension of the other's family. Meghan's mother, uncles and grandparents immigrated to the States from County Clare in Ireland close to 50 years ago. Their whole red-headed, freckled family is as Irish in looks as they are in their warm and funny personalities.

I have very fond memories of Meghan's grandfather, whom everyone called "Papa". He was elderly when I knew him as a child, and I remember him well as a staple in the Dwyer family kitchen, sitting at the counter and watching TV. I always found it a little bit tricky to understand his heavy Irish brogue, but I liked him very much. He always had a kind word - and a bag of M&M's - for all of us kids. 

When I found out I would be visiting Ireland, Meghan and I got to talking about the town her family had emigrated from all of those years ago. She told me about the tiny town of Kilkishen in County Clare, and about how her Papa had helped the build the church that still stands there today. We took a look at a map and I realized that, coincidentally, I would be driving straight past Kilkishen on my way from Galway to Kinsale. We thought it would be a wonderful gift to her mother if I stopped in the town to photograph the church that her grandfather had helped to build. She also told me how to find the house her mother had lived in until she left Ireland at 8 years old, and asked me to take a photo of that too. I was only too excited to take on this new mission!

I arrived in Kilkishen on a gorgeous fall afternoon, and it truly was a tiny town. I might have driven right through it, if not for its sign.

View down Main Street, Kilkishen

From what I could see, it was all of one quaint, colorful and cozy street. The church was the largest building on the street and I found it easily. 

St. Senan's Church, Kilkishen 

After taking photos of the Church, I set out down the street to find a pub called Gleesons. I had been told that the house next to Gleesons was the one that Meghan's family had lived in, nearly 50 years ago. A quick inventory of the street found only a pub called Jack's. As the street was totally empty and quiet, I ducked into a small general store next door to the church to ask where I could find Gleesons, or whether it had long since been closed. In the shop, I met a sweet and helpful older woman, who lived in a small house behind the shop. She was quick to tell me that Gleesons was a couple of miles down the road in the direction that I had just come. She could sense that I was puzzled by this, having been told the pub was very near the church, and pressed as to why I wanted to know. 

As I explained why I was there, she began to rattle off names of families who had lived in the house next to Gleesons Pub for as long as she could remember. I was amazed by her memory, which stretched back through the decades she had spent living in the small town and seemed to me to be a vault of details. As the list of names stretched on, I stopped her and told her the family I was inquiring after was named Hannan. Her face immediately lit up. "You can't mean Patrick Hannan and his family? They didn't live next to GLEESON'S, they lived next to JACK'S!" And just like that, I realized that I had stumbled upon a woman who not only could point me in the right direction, but vividly remembered the entire family in question. She had run the same small stop in which we were standing for all of these decades, and as I listened there with my jaw dropped open, told me she remembered Meghan's mother, "Sweet little Marian" who was always running around the shop with her brothers all of those years ago. We were both equally stunned, and thrilled at the coincidence.

The woman, who I now knew as Norah, insisted that I join her for a cup of tea to swap stories and talk about the family that had inspired my visit to Kilkishen, which she so fondly remembered. The next thing I knew, I was tucked away in her kitchen with a mug of tea, cake, and biscuits. We were both slightly overwhelmed by the afternoon's turn of events, and took turns asking each other question after question. I listened as she recounted Meghan's mother and Uncles, asking after each of them, describing them as children and drinking in all of the new information I had to give her. She talked about Papa and and remembered Meghan's grandmother, who I had never met. I showed her photos of the family on Facebook, and she marveled that she could remember Meghan's mother's face especially. All the while she carefully took in all of the details I told her, and I could tell she was committing them to her inner vault of a memory. Honestly, I have never been more impressed with a person's memory as I was of Norah's in Kilkishen that day!

After tea, Norah insisted on walking me down the street to show me the house I had been looking for, which sat next to Jack's Pub. She waited for me while I took photos, and allowed me to take her photo as well to show Meghan's family. Ironically, she told me she had never had her picture taken before! Afterwards, she rustled around in her shop, insisting I take an armful of chocolate bars as well as a Kilkishen town newsletter and a scrap of paper with her address on it. She also wrote down my address, and I found myself feeling sad to be saying goodbye to her so quickly. She tucked me back into my car and stood by the curb, waving as I drove off. 

The hour I spent in Kilkishen was one of the most special of my time in Ireland. I drove the rest of the way on to Kinsale feeling warm and happy after my unexpected visit. It just goes to show that it is a small world after all! 

The former Hannan household

Jack's Pub 


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