People are discovering so many ways to track down their ancestry these days. Between DNA tests, family trees becoming available, and digging up old records, people are getting excited about learning their roots. It’s fascinating to find out where you came from and ultimately it makes us feel keener and more compelled to go visit the places our great ancestors lived. There’s nothing surprising about the fact that a large portion of the US population has Irish ancestry, and therefore has become one of the top 50 countries to visit on the planet.
The US is a melting pot of people from all over the world, and while ancestral DNA services are available to us now, that wasn’t always the case. For regular Macs traveler, Christine, her dad discovered his heritage later in life. After being abandoned at an orphanage in NYC in 1931, Vinny was adopted and raised in Brooklyn. He grew up eating pasta and pizza rustica, and lived a full life in New York. A pleasant surprise hit Vinny later in life at 85 years old when he learned about his family roots. His family story follows his 14-year-old mother, who after abandoning Vinny, married his biological birth father and had 5 more children with him. This meant Vinny had five biological siblings, and with this, came the information that he was also 100% Irish. Vinny got the chance to speak with two of his living siblings before he passed, and Christine and her sisters have learned they have dozens of Irish cousins throughout Ireland and America.
Earlier this year Christine and her family visited Ireland on our Walking in Connemara trip, one of our Slower Adventures that immersed them in the wild mountains and peaceful coast of their father's native land.
Before the potato famine, 50% of the Irish immigrants that came to the US were from the Ulster Province (9 counties, 6 of which are in Northern Ireland). Known for its vast rugged landscapes, green countryside and small towns, folks who discover their roots reside in the Ulster Province are thrilled to go. Whether it’s a pilgrimage on the St Patrick’s Way to walk in the footsteps of St Patrick who influenced their religious background, or to visit small towns where their great great grandfather may have learned a trade like Ballycastle or Ballintoy on the Causeway Coast and Antrim Glens, the Ulster Provence holds deep-rooted history for lots of Americans.
The potato famine hit and between 1845-1855, over 1.5 million people headed on ships to the states, mostly landing in New England. Although living conditions were difficult at first, these folks had invaluable skills and survived poverty so their descendants are now a vital part of US culture. Americans looking to trace their ancestors who fled due to the famine often travel the Wild Atlantic Way, exploring the vast lands that their family used to farm on, or if they’re looking to be immersed in history and go as far back as 33,000 years ago during the ice age, they can explore The Burren while Walking Ireland’s West Coast.
After the US Civil War, Irish immigrants were more accepted in the US due to their willingness to participate in the battle. Social and political unrest at the turn of the century in Ireland combined with Ellis Island opening in New York caused Irish citizens to continue coming to the US for work and freedom. At this time, Irish-born immigrants in the US made up 2.12% of the population, but more importantly, 6.53% of people in the US were Irish-Americans (people born to Irish-born parents), beginning the heritage lines.
Dating back 6,000 years, the Dingle Way puts you in the view of deep history so you can track the ancestors of your ancestors and their involvement with Viking raids, Christianity, Cashels, and Clocháns. Older than the Alps and the Himalayas, the Wicklow Way is the oldest waymarked trail in Ireland and is a true testament to the achievements of the people that lived here, as Glendalough is home to the 6th Century monastic city which was the seat of European learning for six centuries.
Not only is heritage important to trace where our ancestors came from, but it could also open up the opportunity for connections that may have been missed otherwise. Finding your roots is special, and hiking in the steps of your ancestors is life-changing.
Time to discover yourself, discover Ireland...