There’s an echo, generations on, that leads us back to Ireland. It called around 19,000 New Zealanders in 2002. I was among them and, like many, I was on the ancestral trail.
On a sunny June afternoon, I found myself standing among the weathered Celtic crosses in the graveyard at St Mary’s Church in Ballymacpeake, Co Derry, not far from the River Bann. Mum’s grandfather grew up there.
I had her O’Neill family tree with me, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, or even what had drawn me.
A few yards away, a woman was putting fresh flowers on a grave. I asked if she knew any O’Neills in the district. ‘Well, I’m an O’Neill. I’m Mary,’ she said in a precise Irish lilt. She sized me up while I talked, then said unexpectedly, ‘Follow me.’
Off she went in a little red car down lanes and byways, stopping to walk across a field to a farmer on a tractor harvesting hay. Soon she beckoned me over. Read the rest of this entry »