Exploring my Irish roots in the mother land

The author, Leah Ryan, on the Oscar Wilde ferry traveling from France to Ireland in March 2014.

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two-part column on the author’s travels and research of her ancestral origins.

“It’s a long way to Tipperary

It’s a long way to go

It’s a long way to Tipperary

To the sweetest girl I know”

This is part of a song written during World War I. The story I heard was that there was a British fighter whose unit was filled with Irishmen — at the time all of Ireland was still under British control. Irishmen talked about the sweet County Tipperary and inspired the Brit, who had never been there, to write this well loved song.

The first time I sang this song I was on hike with others from our church group at the National University of Ireland-Galway. We were climbing Croagh Patrick, a rock strewn mountain.

This is a popular pilgrimage site in County Mayo as it is where Saint Patrick fasted and prayed for 40 days.

There was a group of six students and I was one of two Americans.

“It’s a long way to Tipperary,” the group belted and I soon learned to join in, “It’s a long way to go.”

Croagh Patrick is covered in rocks and it can be quick slick if you are not careful. At the top we celebrated mass and looked at the countryside surrounding us.

True, it was a long way to County Tipperary where we were, but it was the closest I had ever been. Still, I felt pulled closer.

A few years later and a few flights back and forth over the pond, I finally got to explore Tipperary with my brother, Brendan, and dad.

Before ever going to Ireland, I felt a strange and strong pull, sense of calm and home of the foreign country.

It was as if the waves reached toward me — all the way across North Dakota — to carry me to the island. The green, green grass and stone walls welcomed me. I felt part of the history.

Time slipped away. I am Leah Ryan, in a woolen dress with a Claddagh ring.

I dance around the thatched-roofed cottage as a family member plays the fiddle and another sings. A stew with potatoes simmers in the fire and tea brews in a kettle.

I am at any time — time does not matter here. I am home.

Is it that so many ancestors lived this life that the memory has been passed on to my soul? For centuries one generation lived like the last. We passed on freckles and the farm.

Although I am about 75 percent Irish, I am also German-from-Russia, German, and Highlander.

Try as I might, I can’t “remember” my life in Germany or Russia.

My bones and blood are of Éire. I am Irish in America.

I have always been interested in my family’s genealogy.

While in graduate school I took a class on ancestry documentary to fulfill my film credit. It was taught by the great Dr. Jeff Chown and we learned to use Ancestery.com, make family trees and make a family-based documentary. As part of our research we watched episodes of the PBS show “Who Do You Think You Are?” Amazing conversations were sparked concerning documenting adoptions and divorces.

I contacted extended relations and dug through mountains of digital paperwork hunting for...myself? history? Truth?

What I was able to create was a line — it started in Ireland, crossed from Canada into the U.S. and then split across the Midwest. I had various names, dates and locations. But I was/am still hungry. I want to know these people.

Who were they? What were their likes and dislikes? Would we have enjoyed each other? Are they proud of me?

Not many of my ancestors left an evidence trail. No diaries have been passed along and only government records point the way this and that.

I feel as if the internet has given a gift to those who come after me. Maybe, they too will be one day curious about me.

I am able to give them the gifts of my columns- a documentation of my wanders and life on the Iron Range.


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