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A Journey to Wicklow


After receiving a little encouragement from the Clann I would like to share my thoughts with you on a three year journey of discovery to the home of my ancestors in Wicklow, Ireland.

The cousin who I first made contact with three years ago, is now in hospital in Wicklow. She celebrated her 91st Birthday last Saturday, but is very weak and not very well at all. She is not a Kavanagh, but descended from The Doolittle Family, and then down to the Morgan family. My Grandmother was a Morgan, before she married into the Kavanagh Family.

The Doolittle Family were all ship owners and master mariners from Wicklow Town, and they had many daughters. Most of the daughters married mariners as well. My Great Grandmother married Captain Morgan who, came from Wales, and it was one of their daughters Georgina Morgan who married Thomas Kavanagh, my Grandfather. Thomas was also a seafarer.

My Great Grandfather Samuel Kavanagh was a Stonemason as was his brother James. It was this James who helped to build the Fastnet Lighthouse. Their Father, my Great Great Grandfather, Michael Kavanagh was also a Stone Mason. And at that point I am stuck fast on the Kavanagh line.

I established contact with a grandson of James Kavanagh. We met up for the very first time last year on my visit to Wicklow in September and we met again in May. He was introduced to me by the cousin I mentioned in the opening paragraph. He is a retired man, and has spent all his working life employed with the Irish Lights. He gave me the Centenary Book which was printed by the Irish Lights to celebrate the 100 years since the Fastnet Light house was finished.

It was quite an emotional journey, travelling to Wicklow, and meeting up with people who I had never known, but could remember my mother as a child and a teenager. Although my mother was born in Liverpool, she lost her sight at the tender age of 3 years, and was sent to the convent in Wicklow to be looked after and educated. One of the novice nuns was a member of my Kavanagh Family but I have not yet been able to trace her line.

My mother was at the convent from the age of 4 until about 12-13 years of age, so I had heard many story's from her all about Wicklow and her life there. As a result it was a life long ambition of mine to be able to visit and see the town for myself. When I decided to look up my family tree, I finally made that first trip and, it was so emotional I just can not explain really how I felt.

I looked up at the convent where my mother had stayed, and felt very sad thinking of her there all alone. Then I felt anger that she had been sent away from the embrace of her family in Liverpool when she must of needed them most. Finally I felt a great of deal of pride that my mother had made it through the ordeal, grown up and married my father and then raised three healthy children.

My mother was unable to read bedtime stories to us as children but she did tell us many tales of the family in Ireland. Some were possibly a little exaggerated; others were very true, as I have found out during the last three years of searching.

I have sat on the jetty wall in Wicklow harbour and pictured ships sailing in and out with my ancestors onboard. I have also made a visit to the lifeboat station, were one of my Great Great Uncles on the Doolittle side was a coxswain for a number of years. His photograph is up on the wall of the Station. I have walked around Wicklow town and looked at various properties which once belonged to my family. Now I just feel so very proud to be part of those great families, and their history.

I just LOVE Wicklow now and I dream of our next visit. I do not know when yet, but hopefully it will be not too long in coming. So yes it has been a very mixed bag of emotions making that very first visit, looking at the graves with my ancestors names carved in the stonework, reliving the tales told to me by my mother, and the feeling that my family have left a mark in this world,

I just hope that I follow in some of their footsteps, and leave something for people to remember me by, even if it just for the love and gratitude that I want to show. Ray and I have a dream: to follow our only child and his family over to Melbourne, Australia and to live out the rest of our days there. It would be great to take some history with us for our grandson, so that in many years to come he can look back and say what a great family he came from.

We even took our son and his wife and our grandson with us last September to retrace some of their footsteps in Ireland. They were so happy that they had made the trip before setting off to live on the other side of the world.

We all descend from some very brave and strong families, as the times they lived through were tough and it took a lot of strength and courage just to get through them. The more I discover about my history the more I realise just how much my mother has passed on to us, her children. When you are so busy growing up and getting to know the world you live in, you do not always appreciate or care about the life story of your parents or grandparents. It is only later in life when we are so keen to find our roots that we have flashbacks of all the stories we were told as kids. Many of the younger generation are not very interested in family trees and the like, but their time will come, and then they will want to know everything.

Now, I wish that I had listened more to what my mother was telling us, as she was such a story teller. She was totally blind, but she had a terrific memory. In fact my cousin who is still living in Ireland says that we were known as the "Long tale Family," meaning that there was so much to tell.

It is so good to be able to walk down the main street in Wicklow town today and see that my family name is still alive and trading there, and that the townsfolk still remember my ancestors. I walked into St Patrick's Church a short time ago and there, on most of the pews and little side chapel shrines were the names of my loved ones.

When I went out to visit the family graves at Three Mile Water graveyard, which is just outside Wicklow Town, we found the place overgrown with brambles and we had to fight our way through. One of the graves has sunk so much over the years that I fell down into it. It was scary I can tell you. I mentioned this to my recently discovered Kavanagh cousin. Low and behold, when we returned to Wicklow in May, my cousin had cleared the brambles and I was able to take photographs of the family plots.

I really feel that it is now up to us to lay the ground work for our children and grandchildren. The family is a much more fluid thing today with marriage on the decline, life partners and divorce. There may be several names in one family unit and fewer official records to work with. It makes it even more important that our generation lays down a solid foundation. We maybe the lucky ones who have the chance to be able to retrace footsteps, and I know for one, I will not stop trying to retrace until I stop walking myself.