[Originally posted on MyT]
In early 2006, my local community was planning to celebrate the sesquicentenary (150th anniversary) of primary education in the parish. A weekend of events was scheduled, including a visit from the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese; a book was to be published to mark the occasion. I was asked to help with the book’s production, and readily agreed.
At an early committee meeting, someone gave me a cutting from a local paper to the effect that an American writer, JM, had published a novel based on the lives of his nineteenth-century ancestors, who came from our area. I emailed him to ask if he might like to contribute a chapter to our book; he responded promptly and had sent the chapter within a few days … it told the story of how he traced his Irish forebears and researched their lives for his novel.
As it transpired, JM’s great-great-grandfather, who emigrated to Pennsylvania, had lived half a mile down the road from where I now live. That man’s brother had dwelt exactly where my house stands: he was a flax-grower and smith who leased 19 acres from the Marquess of Headfort and operated a household manufactory, employing a cooper (whose descendants, I believe, now live next door to me) and several spinners.
JM came over that June for the Irish launch of his book, accompanied by his daughter, and they both spent some time at our house – I cooked them a meal and showed them the crumbling remnants of the flax-grower’s house and outhouses, in my garden. JM is a pleasant and interesting man in his seventies … he spent his career overseas, working for the World Bank, and had met Haile Selassie and other notables.
The sesquicentenary book was duly published that summer … as well as JM’s chapter, it consists of local history, photographs, and the primary-school memories of 80 or so people from the very young to the very old, including my daughter. The President came (and was presented with a stained-glass lamp that my wife had made), the sun shone, and a good weekend was had by all in our corner of rural Co. Cavan … overlooking the lake where JM’s great-great-grandfather, born in 1819, had worked as a ferryman before the New World called him.