In 1649, Oliver Cromwell, having beheaded the English King Charles I and appointed himself Lord Protector, brought an army across the Irish Sea to stomp out the rebellious Irish and make the island ready for more English and Scottish plantation. He was, to say the least, ruthless in his endeavor. Whole towns were wiped out, crops and livestock were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Irish were killed. In addition, Cromwell continued the practice of transporting Irish men, women, and children to the American colonies as indentured servants–some call them slaves–to work the fields of tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane.
A Shields family lived in County Antrim. William and his wife Mary Ann had at least four sons, William, James, Daniel, and John. William and James were transported to Barbados in the early to mid 1650s. Daniel and his son fought on the Jacobean side in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690; both were killed. John left Ireland for America but died during the journey.
William and James eventually left Barbados. William settled in Virginia’s capital Williamsburg, while James continued on to Maryland and then Delaware.
The eldest Shields son, William, was born in 1630 and is my father’s 8th great grandfather. My brother Brad, his wife Karen, and I have come to Barbados to look for anything that would tell us about his life here.
Two years ago, when I went to Ireland to find the stories of my great great grandparents, I discovered early on that the information I needed could not be found–at least for now. The realization that my mission had failed was surprisingly devastating. By the time we left Galway for Cobh, I was despondent. I just couldn’t bring myself to blog after that.
The last week of our trip was lovely, except for my irritable attitude. My daughter Katie and her then-fiancé Bryan joined us there and then went with us to Dublin. Cobh is a beautiful town built on the edge of Cork Harbour. St. Colman’s Cathedral dominates the skyline and multi-colored houses March up the hill. It’s the last port the Titanic visited before she sailed, and it’s where many, if not most, emigrants left.
We all fell in love with Cobh and felt very at home there. We went to a pub one night and ended up trading American and Irish songs. We stayed so long that the owner left, telling us to lock up on the way out. Katie and Bryan and I visited Cobh’s graveyard. In it are buried many victims of the Lusitania, who was torpedoed just off shore.
Even though I did not find Rose and James, I did find some tantalizing clues to both sides of the family. At the time that Rose and James left Ireland, most ships stopped at Cobh (named Queenstown then) on their way to the Americas. Even if they boarded ships in Derry or Limerick, they most likely were in Cobh.
In Cobh (or Cork) Harbour, there is an island with a long history. Spike Island was the home of an ancient monastery, but has been used as some type of prison for hundreds of years. We took a boat ride to the island just to see it, but I found in the museum that transportees in the Cromwellian period were held on Spike Island to await ships bound for the colonies.
So the most astounding thing I discovered on this trip was that my mother’s great grandparents and my father’s 5x great grandfather probably left from the same place. Our ancestors’ last sight of Ireland was Cobh. No wonder we all felt so at home there.
It was very foggy up at the Cliffs of Moher. It’s probably more accurate to say the clouds were rather low, since we were very high up. We decided to take a bus tour; the drive up was harrowing, and I was very glad I wasn’t driving. It was much like our drive up through the Wicklow Mountains after we visited Glendalough: one side of the road looked like the edge of the world. We walked up to the wall that keeps visitors from falling off the cliffs, but we couldn’t see the ocean or the cliffs. The fog was so thick, in fact, that it felt as though it was actually in my eyes. We could faintly hear the waves hitting the cliffs more than 300 feet down, and we could hear seagulls flying just out of our vision. I’m glad we went, even if we didn’t see the cliffs. We’ve seen a portal tomb, some castle ruins, the remains of a monastery, a relatively-intact ring-fort, and several fairie circles and trees. It was well worth the trip. Plus, we didn’t get lost once!
Are you afraid of fairies? Apparently, it’s a wise person who is. We explored an ancient ring-fort that was built around 600 B.C.E. by Celtic people. However, it was given up to the Tuatha Dé Danann when they and the Milesians agreed to divide Ireland between them. The Milesians were the Celts who took the topside and the Tuatha Dé Danann went to live underground. They became the Fairie Folk who aren’t too happy with their end of the bargain and tend to play tricks on humans. We’ve also seen several stones and trees standing alone in the middle of fields and pastures, even ones where a road has obviously been diverted around it.
Holy wells dot the landscape. We found two sort of on our own: one on the way up to Emain Macha and one behind the church at Cranfield. Trees and/or bushes surround a pool of water a few feet across, and rags of many colors will be tied on the branches. It seems each well has its own traditions, but they’re all considered places of healing. At the well in Cranfield, a man and his son told us that the tiny amber rocks that are in the pool are good luck if you swallow them. Fishermen would do this so they would not drown in Lough Neagh (or anywhere else, I assume).
I’m sitting on the balcony of our B&B in Galway City with my dinner of Irish brown bread, Irish cheddar cheese, fruit, and a Bulmer’s. Galway Bay is two streets over; Eyre Square is just down the hill. Chris and Robbie and I spent the day in the Latin Quarter: narrow medieval streets lined with shops, restaurants, and buskers performing music, magic, and juggling. It’s definitely a tourist area, but we enjoyed it.
Our drive down from Fermanagh was not too adventurous, at least not until we got to Galway City. There is not one straight line in this whole town! Also, the city must be saving loads of money on street signs, because they are very few and far between. I’ll be helping with that situation, though. I was pleasantly surprised to get a great parking space close to the Latin Quarter this morning. But you know what they say about something being too good to be true; apparently some sort of parking permit is needed in that area. Galway City will be €40 richer after I pay my fine. Doing my part to help the Irish economy.