My mother’s parents (Granny and Pa) came to America in the noble pursuit of better, honest, work and the American Dream. For years before he passed away, Pa worked in a Manhattan apartment building as a door attendant, putting in long hours to save up enough for his family. Looking back now, I see baby pictures of myself on his lap adorned in green and covered in shamrocks, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with my grandparents. As I got older though, all my Irish heritage seemed to amount to was corned beef and cabbage on March 17th. All throughout my life, I knew my ancestors hailed from Ireland. However, it wasn’t until I lived in Dublin for 5 months that I came to fully appreciate my Irish roots.
So often, I had seen pictures of my Irish family in old, dusty photo albums in their Queens apartment. But the names and faces were all just an abstraction, collections of people I knew existed, but could never place. A few months after my arrival for a study abroad program in Dublin, a Cousin Mary invited me for a trip to County Tipperary to spend a long weekend. Mary, as a side project (that could be full-time), began tracing the history and genealogy of the Kennedy's in County Tipperary—the county where Pa is from. We started with a drive through the countryside and feeling like a tourist, I watched the suburban houses disappear, and be replaced by open fields. We traveled down a one-way road, obscured by trees and brush. We drove up the road to a small, modest yellow house, with no neighbors in sight for miles. I asked Mary exactly where we were, and she told me that this was the house Pa and his twin brother were born in. While makeovers over the years, and countless owners had altered the look of the house, it was the same ground, the same land that my grandfather walked on, before setting out on countless adventures that would take him around the globe. After that, we visited the unmarked grave where his parents were buried in a cemetery surrounded by nothing but fields of green for miles.
Finally, my Irish heritage was more than just fuzzy memories and stories of the old country. It was deep within the roots of Ireland, and suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride to be a member of the Kennedy bloodline. My Pa traveled the world, worked hard, and gave everything he could, leaving Ireland behind so he could give my Mother and her siblings a comfortable life, and by default, give me a great life and college education. I realized at that point, I wasn’t there as a visitor passing through. I was there out of respect for the work ethic my Granny and Pa held, and to better understand a piece of myself I never knew was so meaningful.