Up until a few years ago, I knew nothing about my family in Ireland. While I knew that all of my great-grandparents on my mom’s side emigrated from Ireland, I never though much about the rest of my family who stayed behind. This all changed a few years ago when my grandparents visited Ireland for the first time. They came back with dozens of stories about all of our relatives and our family’s history. Their trip inspired me to study abroad in Dublin and now here I am, three years later.
I got in contact with Sean, my grandmother’s cousin, his wife, Debbie, and their sons, Ian and Senan, a few months before I was due to arrive. Sean told me to think of their home as my own and was so excited for me to arrive. Flash forward a few months and there is Sean, waiting for me at the airport and helping me lug my 100 pounds of luggage to the car. A man who I didn’t even know existed up until a few years ago and had never met was now my family. He took my roommate and I out to breakfast and showed us all around Dublin. He got my apartment all squared away and left me with a long list of his family members’ phone numbers. Sean said that they were my family now too and to call whenever I needed anything. He was right, they are my family.
Two weeks later Sean picked me up at Griffith and we headed to the most important Gaelic football game of the year, the All-Ireland Finals. It was there that I met Debbie, Ian and Senan for the first time. I was suddenly a part of their world, their culture, and most importantly, their family. Gaelic Football is huge in my family as Sean was an All Ireland Champion and Ian and Senan both play football for their parish team, St. Brigids, as well as their county team, Roscommon. Ian and Senan explained all of the rules to me and we talked like we had known each other forever.
The next weekend I travelled to Athlone for the first time. Debbie cooked us all a big Irish breakfast and we hung out like we did this every morning. Ian, Senan and I laughed while watching TV shows like Storage Wars and laughed even harder they tried with no success to explain rugby to me. We went to St. Brigids’ U18 Championship game and out to dinner just like a normal family would do.
Since then, I have gone back to Athlone three or four times. I went to my great great uncle’s memorial mass, visited the family farm where my great-grandmother grew up, attended Ian and Senan’s championship football games, and learned all about our family tree. When my parents and little brother came to visit me, we went to spend the day with Ian. We took a tour of the town, explored the Castle, went to lunch, and spent time at the house. We later headed back to Dublin to meet Senan for dinner. Before arriving, my parents couldn’t believe how comfortable I had become with Sean, Debbie, Ian, and Senan. However, after spending just a few hours with them, they felt the exact same way.
I talk to my family a few times every week now. They help me with projects and homework, let me know about cool events going on in Dublin, give me hostel recommendations, help me plan my trips around Europe and are always around to just talk. Over the past three months, these people who I never knew even existed have become my family, proving just how strong the bond of family truly is. They have taught me so much about our history, our culture, our Irish heritage and myself as a person.
Because of Sean, Debbie, Ian, and Senan, I feel like I belong in Ireland. I have experienced the Irish culture in a completely different way with them by my side. Leaving Dublin in two short weeks will be 1000x more difficult than I ever would have imagined. I have never been more proud to be Irish and I am so thankful that I have been able to live here and experience my family’s culture. During my time here, I have realized how important family, history, and ancestry are. Before I came here, I would say that I was going to see some relatives named Sean, Debbie, Ian, and Senan. Now, three months later, I say that I will be back soon to see my family. Because that is what they are, family.