Exploring Ireland to trace my Irish roots

I got chatting with a friend recently about the random reasons we decide on destinations to travel to. There are so many places in the world to choose from – what makes us decide where to explore next?

You probably already realise I’m one for heading off the beaten track: while I’ve loved visiting cities like Paris or London, I am much happier taking a trip to Estonia or western Japan or somewhere that’s less high up on the list of most travellers. As I thought back over a number of my trips, the reasons for deciding on the destinations were many and varied but nearly always unique!

Visiting Inis Meain in Ireland

My son playing football with a local on Inis Meain

A good example of mine was back in 2013 when I spent a week on Inis Meain, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. It wasn’t a place that was on my radar at all until a dear friend of mine decided to go there chasing family history – her husband’s great uncle was Irish writer John Millington Synge, and they decided to go and spend six months there writing, just like Synge had. In turn, I decided that was as good a reason as any to visit somewhere unique that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, and was so glad, as my time on Inis Meain with Maria was a very special week. There were virtually no tourists there and Maria could introduce me to a number of the locals; my son loved it because the house they’d rented overlooked the tiny Inis Meain airport and we could spend a lot of time at the kitchen window watching the small planes land and take off.

Learning about my own ancestors

Right now it’s school holidays here and I’ve just spent a few days down in the bush where my Dad lives – and to follow on from the discussion above, I asked my Dad to pull out his big document about the Kendles. A distant relative with some family history research skills put this together and we often look at it together to peruse the tales of our ancestors. It’s such a long document that we always find something new: we naughtily giggle about the guy who died falling off the back of a cart while trying to light his pipe (see, smoking is dangerous in many ways), and it’s fascinating to see how our line of Kendles moved from South Australia to Western Australia chasing gold. (Sadly, it seems they didn’t find much.)

Kendle Ancestors in South Australia

Unfortunate demise of one of my ancestors in South Australia

Most of the people four or more generations back in that document originally came from England, particularly Woolwich, and yet from what my relatives have said over the years I’ve always considered myself to have more Irish roots than English. My paternal grandmother was a Murphy, and the biggest source of my Irish blood. Murphy is that classic Irish surname, right – in fact I have now learnt that it’s the most common surname in Ireland – but the information we could get narrowed down our Murphy ancestors to be from County Kerry.

Deciding on a trip to County Kerry

You can see where this is leading, right? Now I’m totally sold on the idea of a trip to explore County Kerry! I’ve seen a little of it back on my first visit to Ireland, part of six months in Europe with my family at the age of nine, but I don’t remember it too well and when I browse websites about it, it looks simply stunning!

Ring of Kerry - Finding Irish ancestors

On a road trip on Ring of Kerry – I love this kind of scenery! Photo credit: Nils Nedel

My son – always easy to convince to join a trip, and even more so as he gets older – is right behind this Irish idea. He has a good Irish middle name (kind of accidental at the time, but I like to think of it as a subconscious tribute to several ancestors who share that name – even though the records and family memories suggest they were kind of naughty fellows!) and he still remembers the fun of Ireland when we visited Dublin, Galway and Inis Meain a few years back. With so much more to see I can well envisage the two of us taking a self-drive trip in Ireland – I’m not a fan of long-distance driving but in Ireland, the distances are short enough for me to enjoy it! – exploring the landscape and wondering about when we might be stepping along the paths of our Irish ancestors.

Finding out more before a County Kerry trip

Ahead of a County Kerry trip I’d love to delve deeper into my family history and see what details we could come up with. It would be amazing to know about some of the exact towns or villages that my ancestors had lived in a century or more ago. My friend Melinda has a great post about free resources to look up your Irish ancestors and when I have a good lot of time to spare I’m going to dive in and find out more. Given that my main ancestor is a Samuel Murphy, and I don’t have much more information than that, I can imagine that narrowing down just which Samuel Murphy from the thousands of Irishmen with that same name is my ancestor will be quite the challenge and there will be some fascinating rabbit holes to go down before I end up with some answers.

But answers I will get – or at least some hints and suggestions of places connected to my heritage – before I head to Ireland – and I’m already looking forward to it!

Exploring Ireland to trace my Irish roots

Where do you come from?

Where do your ancestors hale from, and would you like to go and explore those roots? I bet that like me, many of you have Irish ancestors too – the Irish have settled all over the world! Let me know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I found you blog though “Iris”. A cousin of mind visit a lot of place where our ancestors came from
    The part of Ireland my mother side came from Northern Ireland in county of Antrim.
    If you fine the time stop in for a cup of coffee

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