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rosary workshop - Family trip
 *IRELAND:  NORTH and SOUTH - 2009*
tracing family roots - understanding our freedom



 (FOR MORE INFO enter item number CRX.83 in

I have enjoyed searching out the history of the Irish rosary, learning about the Penal Cross and the whys behind it - a tragic history - yet the Irish are a strong, positive people.  But it took a trip to Northern Ireland during Easter 2009 not only to make this cross the key that would open the door to my personal history but to open my heart and eyes to my own country,  America.
It began to bring those distant, missing links into focus. Watching the history of Ireland unfold before our eyes:  The 'Penal Times' , the 'Rising' and the 'Troubles ' was unexpected - but became a distinct root of ones own family tree, especially if you or your family has Irish blood in your veins. It took another country to open my eyes to our own nation. Here is our family story, I hope it opens doors to your heart, too, as we all have a story to tell through our family roots. 

for more on our trip, see below 
connecting with the past


The following information is intended to help each of us understand more of our own family heritage, regardless of our roots. Some one died so we could live in freedom - and the question has to be, are we wasting this gift of freedom? Do we ever take the time to humbly thank those who made it possible? 
Today is no different. It is our responsibility now to give this gift of freedom to our children.  This trip through Irish history paralleled what happened in our history as a new nation was fighting for its freedom - and today?  Yes, even more evident today. It would be Northern Ireland and the events we encountered on this trip that would open my eyes.

What were they? The 'Rising', the 'Troubles', the 'Penal Times'. Why did my husband's Irish mother respond the way she did when national news reviewed these times. I didn't understand and she wouldn't say anything when asked. Her father brought her, as a little girl, to Boston in the early 1900s. Why?
This was our first trip to Northern Ireland and probably was the best.  We loved our trips to Southern Ireland (Republic of Ireland). It is so beautiful! We had family there and it was wonderful to follow the family roots.  We spent Euros and saw hundreds of old ruins surrounded by beautiful, rolling green fields. Ruins of ancient churches, monasteries, homes and wondered -  why? We dodged hundreds of sheep that would not move out of the sun warmed roads. But the underlying thought was, ‘what really happened when these churches and monasteries were destroyed so many 100s of years ago - standing like timeless  sentinels reminding us of the ancient past?
 I basically knew about the more recent ‘Troubles’ (60s on) but not much. I could have told you the ‘Red Coats’ (British) tried to take over Ireland for centuries by destroying their (Gaelic) language, burning their churches and killing the Catholic priests and nuns - and taking over their land but I really didn't understand the personal human suffering. I didn't know it went back at least 800 years!
I remember reading about Henry the VIII and Katherine of Aragon unable to have an heir, a son, his eventual turn away from the “Papist’ church by starting his own church, the Church of England so he could marry Ann Bolin. 
My husbands mom, from Roscommon, spoke of the Potato Famine (believed to be the work of the English) and the sickening loss of life. 
I recently learned about the migration of the ‘Wild Geese’, the young Irish men who left Ireland to protect their family name, only to eventually marry in the new land, never to return to Ireland. Yet they left an amazing Irish heritage to grow from these new roots in America. But it all really never came together.
I knew enough not to have any real interest in going north to Belfast and Londonderry. But we went.
(the land of the British Pound)
We landed in Dublin then drove up the rocky and beautiful coast to Belfast, the land of the British Pound, where we spent 4 days. When we checked into our lovely B&B, our host was in pretty bad shape.  He had been in Dublin over the weekend, was robbed, beaten up and left for dead. All he could do was apologize to us for the way he looked but he was the only one there who could check us in.  Over the next 4 days, he improved quickly and didn't lose his smile. But it was quite a welcome for us and the children - to Northern Ireland from this very gracious man.
On Palm Sunday we took the city tour on a bright red double-decker bus. It was quite an eye opener.  It was windy and cold and cut through any sense of comfort. Our tour guide said that Belfast was, "like a patchwork quilt of communities, Protestant and Catholic." I knew the terms  'Protestant' and 'Catholic' were terms that really were more political that religious. More England and Ireland, but used a lot.
While touring the city she pointed out that all of the flat ‘Car Parks’ (no building – just empty lots) were where high rises and buildings once stood and had been bombed out. She pointed out that the cranes throughout the city were there for building glass high rises as they felt safe to build in glass now. But things seemed to be at a standstill as the economy is worse, we were told, in the North than in the South.
We passed a police truck with its lights flashing and our double decker tour bus stopped - but we were nodded on after some discussion. Another police car slid by with lights flashing - and our tourguide melted as she said quietly ‘I hope it isn't starting again’.
My thoughts turned to the 'Easter Rising' that took place in 1916 and we were there during Easter, a time when some local folks came unglued. I looked at my children and grandchildren in the tour bus and prayed for protection!
Our tour of the city took us by lots of murals on the sides of buildings, depicting the heroes of the time when Ireland was fighting for its freedom from England early last century, including the Civil War. Black masked gunmen were pictured everywhere. 
 Some even touched on American politics, that was a bit jolting! Those I did not take pictures of. Just seemed out of place.
We saw the shipyard where the Titanic was built and the tour guide told us the no Catholics helped build that ship.  If you were Catholic and slipped into the work force and found out, it would be your end. When asked if they, the Irish, felt badly about the plight of the Titanic, our tour guide said smiling,  ‘the answer around here is  ‘It was fine when it left Ireland!’

After that unnerving experience, it was time to sit in one of the warm 'snugs' (sometimes referred to as 'Confessionals) we had read about - at the famous Crown Bar where they have been serving guests since 1826. It was time for a fitting lunch and soothe the nerves with a testing of the pouring of the Guinness. This magnificent bar is now owned by the National Trust.
(the land of the Pound)
On leaving Belfast, we headed for Derry. Derry, also known as Londonderry, is a walled city and has quite a history of its own.  In the ongoing battle with the English for freedom, there is a history of encounters.  One of the most recent was in an area called Bogside where we stayed. (We had no idea that this event, called ‘Bloody Sunday’ happened within a block of our B and B in the 70s. 
We passed a large white sign, shaped like the side of a building that read ‘YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY’.  It was next to where we were staying so passed it several times. One of the times there were two men standing next to this huge sign. 
One was raising a green flag
on the flag pole (Republic) andthe other was taping it. I don’t think I will ever forget this. 
The orange of the north and the green of the Republic (South) really hit home. (The left hand image is the other side of the FREE DERRY sign.)
At night we were told to move the car from in front of the B & B where we stayed. Car bombings were not unusual in this area so Vernon moved it to a secure lot behind the B and B. All was fine, but the thought remained, after our rough beginning!
Again, all through this area of the city we saw mural after mural telling the story of the IRA (Irish Republic Army) and their attempt at a civil rights march. Many images were of those murdered in 1972 during Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was tragic.  The intention was to march unarmed.  And the British soldiers gunned down 14 people, seven were teens - injuring more than 27 more - (Look it up on Google)  - all to make Ireland a safer place for their children.
We stayed at the Abbey B & B in Bogside. Our host and hostess was a beautiful couple, Helen and Seamus Kennedy. On the coffee table in the living room there was a paper back book called the Battle of Bogside.  It was packed with black and white pictures of ‘Bloody Sunday’. Paula showed us a picture of herself in the book.  Then she showed us a picture of her little brother. Then she said, ‘see this little boy sitting in the front row holding a banner? His uncle was killed in the massacre of Bloody Sunday.  He was so touched he joined the IRA and himself was also killed. He was a friend of ours’ I guess it hit me hard as realized everyone in, not only that picture but on each page of that book had a story. 
When we showed interest in the area, Seamus insisted we take a tour of the area. He called Martin McCrossan of Irish Tour Guides.  It was a 3 hour wait before he was free to return the call. He came right over. We went in two cars, both with excellent guides. It was worth the wait.
Martin had been selected as the best guide in all of Ireland by the National Tour Board.  Martin opened up the history of Derry for us with tragic clarity.  We traveled along barbed wire covered walls that divided the homes of Protestants and Catholics.  Now and then he wouldn't look at us and it was during this time, I began to cry.  He had personally suffered through it. He is Catholic, his wife Protestant and he shared, ‘you cannot live in Derry if you have this mixed marriage’. 

One of the statues he showed us was of two men reaching out to one another, hands almost touching called HANDS ACROSS THE DIVIDE. (North and South). I asked him if these times he was telling us about were related to the 'Penal Times' (thinking of the work on our website) and he responded with a very strong 'YES!' 
He ended with a very positive note.  He said, ‘you give me great hope.  1. You came to Derry.  2.  You stayed in Bogside. 3. You took the tour. That gives me great hope!.’ He added, ‘it gives us all great hope for the future.’

(the land of the Euro)
Well, so did this spot - give us hope on another gloomy day heading South. There was a huge rainbow in the sky between this mountain and us, so close you felt you could reach out and touch it! Such a gift of hope! 
And so near Loch Derg where the island retreat called St Patricks Purgatory is and the Penal Crosses shown here had their birth as souvenirs hundreds of years ago! (The rainbow did not photograph but some things are simply between God and the moment!
I had another awakening. Although we were in the Irish Republic, we found how much overall involvement there really was.  When people would ask us where we had been and we said Derry and Belfast. They opened up and shared personal stories that tied the north and south into one. This had never happened before during our trips to Ireland. In the past, we were 'tourists' only - visiting family and seeing the country. But this opened up a whole new intimate page of hard times and sacrifice, all so that they and coming generations, their children would have a place to live in freedom. 
 One man said his father was part of a group that discovered guns being smuggled into Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland for the British Troops. Others spoke of relatives in Northern Ireland that had been killed even in Dublin during the 'Easter Rising" or ‘Troubles’ – or – had relatives who left Ireland for America. North and South were linked closely in this desire for freedom and it was beginning to come home into my family. 
 For an in depth look at this period of Irish history, see in this order:  1.MICHAEL COLLINS (pre 1920s).  (filmed in 1996 - Liam Neeson)  2.  THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY same period, (filmed in 2002 - Cillian Murphy)  and of course, 3. BLOODY SUNAY (1972) which is about Bogside (filmed in 2007starring James Nesbitt).
How many times did I hear this desire for freedom, willing to be martyred, really was -  so future generations, their children would be able to live in freedom. I realized that my children and my Irish husband and his brother and sisters were apart of that generation of ‘children’, even though now Americans, who these brave and beautiful Irish people were willing to give their lives for. 
I thought of Pete’s Irish mother (Della Marie Fallon) or ‘Mamó' to the grandkids’ (Grandmother is seanmháthair, máthair mhór or Mamó [mamó])  . I thought of her father bringing her from Roscommon to Boston as a child.  I thought of other family members who did made it to America and had a much better life than promised in Ireland in the early 1900s during the 'Rising' and later the 'Troubles'.  I wondered how her father died when he returned to Ireland and was unable to bring any more of his children to Boston. Was he involved in the fight for freedom? Will we ever know? 
I thought of the life Mamó had in America, even through  WWII, married to a Submarine Naval Officer, not knowing half the time if he was alive or dead. -  and of her children and now their children who live in freedom today because of him and others like him. 
And why did my children's dad, who was also a military career officer like his dad, have the name ‘Collins’ in his name (Pierre Steele Colice Collins Joseph, Francois Leon Blair) which always brought smiles to our faces, 'why so many names,' dad? 
I never put the two together, Collins?  Michael Collins?  But wondered why his Irish mother chose that name, knowing - she assured us she had chosen each name carefully - after a relative or someone important.  The time was right. Regardless, I have new respect for it.
I thought of our children and how we spend our freedom daily.  How little they, we know about those now nameless men and women who made it possible for us to live in this freedom here in the US, too. How often do we wonder who they were and prayerfully send grateful thanks to each of them whereever they may be. These countrymen and women are our brothers and sisters in Christ, the family of God - members of the Communion of Saints that spans heaven and earth. 
 I was taken by the families in the Republic of Ireland (Southern Ireland) who had proudly framed their Irish Proclamation on their wall that reads: 
In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
And I could not, like most adults or our children in school today, tell you what the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES, the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE or the BILL of RIGHTS says! Cetainly have not seen it proudly hanging on any walls of private homes in our country! Yes saw it in DC years ago but shamefully, not recently when we are in dire need of its leadership. WE must get back to our founding fathers and understand their message before it is too late. There is so much to learn from history. 
Is there a parallel here? I thought and pondered this the rest of our trip.
Would I go back to Northern Ireland?  Oh yes! In a heartbeat!  It is beautiful country and the people are very dear! Ireland is mystical! 
Certainly we know this from our own involvement in two World Wars during the 20th century, preceded by the spilling of blood on our soil during the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and our own break for freedom from England in the late 1700s. 
Everyone has a similar history of generations  who fought so coming generations   could live in freedom. Many in the world are in the midst of the fight of their lives. But I had to wonder if we ever take the time to send up a prayer of thanksgiving on their behalf? Do we appreciate what they have done to give us the greatest gift of all, our freedom?

Is this why Ireland is so mystical? Is this the seed of the martyrs? All these were thoughts working in my head as we wove in and out the country side of Ireland, through the Causeway, Galway Bay, and back to Dublin Airport.

 - it was a wonderful trip, the best trip to Ireland yet,  thanks to Mary and Vernon.

So much to think about! So much to be grateful for! Yes it was a powerful wake up call that I want my children to hear, too, and all who take freedom for granted. Such a peaceful scene below with the children feeding the calf, helps us realize how blessed we are! 
     They even had a chance to play Wii on one of the computers at the B&B while we older folk baked in front of the hot, peat fire, healing our sore muscles and cold bodies before going back out to dinner in that cold, damp April weather.
PS - here we are! Gramma is really not that short, she is surrounded by tall Irish blooded people  (am I the only one that is not Irish?) - Vernon, behind me, is 6'7" and you have to love the name of the restaurant! And now, Nat and James (left) are over 6.4 and basketball is the game, just like their dad!
Look at those Fiats!  He had more! This was out the window of the B&B in Dublin, and just had to smile, thinking what a great time he is having collecting them!

An overview of the rosary crosses of Ireland
Unique tubular crucifixes in silver, influenced by the Spanish trade from the Hunt.
18c Penal Rosaries and crosses, a mini history with pictures.
Rosaries of amber and ivory, from the 1700s - 1800s


All that study for the website on Penal Crosses, and I never once thought about it being part of our family history.  It was always about them, but now the door of my heart was opened and it became a family matter, these Penal Crosses!

(FOR MORE INFO enter item number CRX.83 in

A rare find!  Th earliest of the Penal Crosses we have seen so far. They tell us these were carved from wood at Loch Derg (St Patricks Purgatory) for souvenirs for those who came on retreat to the little island in the middle of the lake where we saw the awesome rainbow in front of the mountain. Remember?
This one was identified by the seller as from the 'Spanish Colonial Period.' (Very possible as trade between Ireland and Spain was common during the Penal Times.) But for me, now, for the first time, I look at this cross and see not only the history of a nation of people, but of my family, too!

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~ PROCLAMATION of 1916 ~

To the people of Ireland.
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Each one who signed the above document was executed by the English for treason - not unlike what happened to our own men who signed our right to independence. I could so easily sub 'America' while reading the words below - as our republic, our nation is in peril today. 
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,  We, the people of Éire,  Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,  Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation, 
And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,  Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution. 
Had we not gone to Northern Ireland and experienced what we did, I doubt if the Irish Constitution (above) would hold my heart like it does. Both Republics, both recognizing and acknowledging the Divine Lord, Jesus Christ over all. We must never let go of these truths our families fought so hard to give us!

Right after we returned,  I was going to purchase soccer shirts for the kids to save on shipping and tax, had them lined up then read this and decided not! Press release related to the death of a man (catholic) at the hands of soccer players from the north. It all flooded back and I realized, its not over yet! These ongoing troubles remind us too clearly, that the oppression is still alive and well. Within weeks of our return home, we read:

PRESS RELEASE (May 25,2009)
“In Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants attend separate school systems, sports divide rather than unite the population. Protestants back rugby, Catholics their homegrown Gaelic football and hurling.
Both sides like soccer — but rarely root for the same teams. In international competitions, Catholics back the Republic of Ireland soccer team, Protestants the Northern Ireland squad. Many Belfast pubs refuse to admit customers if they are wearing soccer jerseys or scarves, particularly the rival Glasgow colors, because of the likelihood it will spark a fight.”

 Understanding the problems is not easy as Fr O'Connor told us years ago, that this was not a religious war, but a political war.  A war between England and Ireland. The Irish wanted their freedom from England and this is the way it divided up.

PRESS RELEASE (June 23 09)
"Driving people out of their homes "runs very deep" in N. Ireland.

Liam Clarke says the claim that the the sympathetic response to the unfortunate Roma people who were driven out of their homes in Belfast is "the real Ulster" misses the point. Clarke says that "[m]arking out streets and areas of land as the territory of one community and driving out those who, for one reason or another, don’t fit, runs very deep in Northern Ireland. It is not new, and the Roma are not its first victims." 
The legacy of the "ethnic cleansing" of the 1960s and 70s remains. "[A] system of walls" - "peace lines" - separate Catholics from Protestants today. Flags and painted curbs mark out territory of Catholics and Protestants and, although they may live near one another, working class people from each community "don’t just have separate schools, they have separate bus stops and separate facilities such as doctors’ surgeries." ---- For more see the Sunday Times

MATTHEW 5:43-45 
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45  that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust ...