Remembering Air India Flight 182

On Sunday, while in West Cork, we traveled to Ahakista in West Cork to visit a memorial to the 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing and and plane crash.

The Air India flight was en route from Canada to India when a bomb exploded and killed all 329 passengers and crew on board. The memorial is beautiful; it is in a quiet, peaceful landing that looks out over the water.

On the anniversary of the tragedy the sundial points to the place in the sky where the tragedy occurred. Each year on June 23rd there is a memorial event to remember the lives lost; we were less than a month from the anniversary so some of the memorials were still present.

It was a horrible tragedy but we were glad we could visit and pay our respects.

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Man’s (and Arjun’s) Best Friend. Jake.

In Ireland, Arjun has met cousins, eaten medieval feasts, climbed the steps of 1,000 year old castles, pet a donkey, pet a dog that was sitting on a donkey, met a shepherd and his sheep and sheepdogs, viewed the Ring of Kerry, played in an 18-wheeler sized bouncy house, drank more soda and eaten more candy then ever before in his life, and enjoyed a horse & carriage ride at his great-grandfather’s farmhouse.

But yesterday he met Jake. And everything, I believe, will now pale in comparison to Jake.

Jake is a 1 1/2 year old dog who is one of the most adorable and friendly 4-legged friends a 7-year old could ask for. He belongs to Neil & Margaret McSweeney, whose home we were visiting last night for dinner. The evening was wonderful – family time is truly the highlight of this trip. Ann, Devanjn, and I were treated to many memories from past visits to Ireland made by Mom and Dad, and learning about the many cousins in the McSweeney family (Mom’s Aunt Lil McSweeneys was Grandpa’s younger sister).

As much as we were enjoying the human company indoors, Arjun was loving the canine company outdoors. It didn’t start out as an obvious match…when we first arrived, Jake barked at us (as any self-respecting dog will do to protect his manor). We asked Neil if the dog was friendly, and Neil said, “His name is Jake. If he likes you he may jump up on you.” So we approached Jake at first – Ann, me, and the kids…he then slowly approached us, ears down, sniffing us curiously, then he nuzzled in, allowed us to pet him, enjoying our affections, and before we knew it he was in Ann’s lap! And he didn’t just jump up…he stood there, tail wagging, and then pressed his head into her…like he was saying “More! More! I love you sooooo much!” So we sat there and pet him for a good 5 minutes, and then Ann and I went inside to visit with Neil and Margaret, Breda, who is heroically driving us around West Cork this weekend (❤️), my parents, and Dev.

The pictures show what then happened next…over the next 5 hours — nonstop playing outside – Arjun in particular who coudln’t get enough of his new best friend.

Giraffes, Rhinos, & Penguins, Oh My!

We visited Fota Wildlife Park in County Cork on Friday and it…was…amazing!  Our cousin Gearoid helped arrange the tour for us and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Fota is a wildlife conservation park that collaborates with other parks in Europe and beyond to help conserve, protect, and advocate for wildlife. The ultimate goal at Fota is to help increase animal populations and then reintroduce them back into the wild. So for instance we learned that Fota has the “stud book” for the world’s cheetahs…cheetahs from around the world are tracked, monitored, and strategically placed in wildlife parks to help support breeding efforts. …We had a wonderful tour guide, Willie, who explained it to us and while I didn’t catch all of it (it was new to me), it was informing to learn that such efforts are afoot to help grow animal populations that might otherwise be at risk. And that there is global coordination among zoological/animal experts.

Another interesting thing: the rhinoceros house was like Fort Knox; because the rhino horns are worth so much on the black market, the European Union mandated security included dozens of CCTV cameras and censored entrance/exit tech.

All that being said …. From a purely selfish, “omigod I can’t believe we are here and get to do this” point of view: it was like being a kid again to experience Fota via private tour. Never in a million years did any of us imagine we’d have our first (and possibly only) experience feeding giraffes, rhinoceroses, penguins, and monkeys … all in one spot in Ireland. It was fantastic.

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The giraffes were my favorite part of the visit. We were able to go inside the visitor Pen and feed them from a bucket. They are majestic animals, so tall and lean, and the way they swoop their heads up and down to get a bit of food was unlike anything I had ever experienced. They are just massive creatures. They didn’t seem to mind us visitors, so as the pictures show they shoved their giant heads into the feed buckets, gently pushing us out of the way as they did so. They were adorable and intimidating at the same time….it was a wonderful mix of emotions all at once and we were all a bit bowled over…we left the giraffe pen like a group of school kids, absolutely astonished at what had just happened!

Our tour guide Willie was absolutely wonderful and all the kids had a fantastic time as the pictures show. Indira and Arjun had a great time too 😁

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Choctaw Nation of Mississippi Sent $170 for Irish Famine Relief in 1847

While in Skibbereen, termed “ground zero” for the mid-19th century Irish famine, we learned of a donation that the Choctaw Nation of Mississippi sent to the Irish in 1847. The total sum: $170, worth tens of thousands in today’s dollars.

The Choctaw Nation were less than 20 years removed from their own horrific experience during America’s “Trail of Tears,” when Native Americans were forced off their ancestral lands by the U.S. federal government.

A description of the gift, and the Choctaw people, are summarized at IrishFamine.ie:

“On March 23, 1847 the Indians of the Choctaw nation took up a collection of $170 for Irish Famine relief – an incredible sum at the time. This was particularly poignant given their own history of enduring deprivation themselves. In 1831 the Choctaw Indians were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi to what is now known as Oklahoma. The Choctaws were the first of several tribes to make this difficult trek or Trail of Tears as it became known. The years during and immediately following this journey, were very difficult for the tribal people. Many of the Choctaws did not survive the trip, and those that did faced hardships establishing new homes, schools, and churches. Only 16 years after this journey, the Choctaws learned of the famine in Ireland. As the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears, they felt a great empathy with the Irish people. These Choctaw people, who had such meagre resources, gave all they could on behalf of others in greater need.”

fg2pgotfspmazjydxrqh5a.jpgWe first heard about this donation from our tour guide, Dermott, as he recounted stories of the history of the Great Famine while we toured Cork . Our cousin, Gearoíd, later drove us to a memorial, dedicated last June, commemorating the Choctaw gift.

The memorial is located in Midleton, East Cork and was deeply moving in its size, design, and meaning: 6-meter tall stainless steel feathers arranged in a circle to symbolize the Choctaw, as well as an empty bowl and the hunger of the Irish people during the famine. What a hauntingly beautiful tribute.

So much of this trip has been informing and educational about our Irish history; but this memorial invites us to learn more about our American history as well.

 

Blarney Castle: Get there early!

“Get there early.”

This was the advice of Dermott, our wonderful tour guide, about Blarney Castle, where visitors can kiss the Blarney Stone and receive “the gift of the gab.” Dermott was a not a fan of Blarney Castle; he viewed it I suppose the way many New Yorkers view the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building: a tourist trap that costs a lot of money, requires excessive waiting in line given large crowds, and entails a big buildup with questionable reward when it’s all said and done. Familiarity and proximity breed contempt, I suppose.

We were grateful we had Dermott to give us the inside scoop: absent his advice we likely would have landed at Blarney mid-day not knowing any better, and feeling stuck in the long lines, and subsequently guilt ridden at not being able to give the kids their promised chance to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. I had fond memories of the Stone; I enjoyed the experience when I was here in 1984 and I further enjoyed the fun of returning to the States saying I’d kissed it.

As we planned for the trip a couple of days prior, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing among some of us Leddy’s about whether or not we’d all wake up early enough; with fourteen of us in tow there was a high margin of error that we’d somehow not get our act together. But Dermott really drilled it into us that arriving at 9am SHARP was essential to avoiding DisneyWorld-like lines. As we mulled over the logistics, Bernard jokingly suggested that our contingency plan, should we arrive late, could be to tell the kids that one of the stones on the ground level perimeter was “the Blarney Stone” … we had a good laugh about that over dinner.

In the end, we heeded Dermott’s advice, coordinated ourselves, woke up on time, and arrived early. The park opened promptly at 9am, we were the FIRST tourists through the entrance gates, and by 9:10am we had stormed the castle walls; we made a wrong turn at one point on the first floor landing and dead-ended into an ancient bedroom, but soon corrected our route, turned around, and found the narrow stairwell to the top of the castle where the Blarney Stone awaited.

The experience does give one the authentic feeling of going back in time; the stairwell was tight (claustrophobic, if I’m being honest), with a modern metal railing to hold onto, but otherwise (I can only assume) as it had been in the 1400s: narrow and cramped, such that at times we had to hug our shoulders in, and underfoot were pie-shaped jagged stone steps, one after the other in a vertical corkscrew path. It quite honestly is a testament to 1400s stonework that we were even able to attempt the journey; I’m not sure how many of our staircases or stairwells will be accessible or even in existence in 600 years. As we hiked upward we passed small cavernous rooms at various landings. Within 5 minutes we had made it to the top, a perimeter walkway that lined the castle walls. The middle of the castle had been hollowed out with time, the wooden floors and support beams for the roof long gone.

Like any respectable tourist operation, the Castle staff had us quickly lined up and prepped to kiss the stone;
step 1: lie on our backs,
step 2: grip the metal bars behind us,
step 3: shimmy backwards on our bums to get into the proper position,
step 4: arch backwards and down to peck the stone, and
step 5: get up quickly to give the next person in line their chance.

It was my 2nd time kissing the Blarney Stone; Indira and Dev also kissed it (their first time) but Arjun didn’t as he was a bit too small for his own comfort. No bother though; Arjun was born chewing on a bit of Blarney so he’s all good.

We enjoyed the view and the scenery of the Castle itself; it is a beautiful sight to behold. In the U.S. we are not used to seeing many structures dating older than 200 years so there is a sense of wonderment just standing in the shadow of such an old and majestic structure.

All in all a great visit and worth the diligent planning and punctuality!

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Morse Code’s Tragic Roots

Did you know…Morse Code has its roots in a tragic story of heartache?

I learned this story while we were visiting Cobh, The Queenstown Story at Cobh Heritage Centre.  Cobh is located in Cork County, a southern port in Ireland. Mom’s parents both emigrated from the port of Cobh – our grandmother Mary in 1928 and our grandfather John in 1929. The center is a wonderful exhibit, focusing mostly on emigrants from Ireland but also on two notable mariner events: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

Visitors are given the name of a historical avatar when they enter the exhibit, a person who emigrated from Ireland or was a passenger onboard the Titanic or Lusitania. While walking through the exhibit you can read about your historic avatar and learn of his or her fate; a bit of interactive learning that the kids in particular really enjoyed.

Over 3 million emigrants departed Ireland from Cobh, which was known as Queenstown from 1847 until 1920. Cobh was also the final port of call for the Titanic before it famously sunk a few days later in April 1912. It was also off the shores of Cobh that the British passenger ship RMS Lusitania sank after being hit with a German U-Boat torpedo. So there are many interesting stories and individuals who bring the backdrop of history alive.

But one story in particular took me by surprise; it was a small story ancillary to the Titanic exhibit: that of Samuel Morse.

I snapped a picture of the storyboard and am sharing it below. I was struck by how such an important invention- so logical, clinical, rote, and transformational to world history – was rooted in one man’s heartache.

Leprechaun Village (Somewhere Between Bantry & Cork)

On the way from Bantry to Cork City we stopped by a leprechaun village, and I think a few fairies and gnomes lived there too. It was a magical place, a surprise stop courtesy of our amazing tour guide, Dermott.

As soon as we disembarked the bus, Ann observed that we were, in fact, at a gardening store. But this wasn’t just any gardening store. The proprietors – ingenious, clearly – had built a small tourist attraction into their landscape. Amidst the pots, hose extensions, and bags of fertilizer and potting mix, was a little fairy sized wonderland. The store was conveniently – strategically, perhaps – located adjacent a vacant strip of property that contained a small waterfall that flowed into a 30-foot ravine, the bottom of which contained a Fairy Village complete with houses, fairy and leprechaun footpaths, and little fairy stores burrowed into hollowed out tree trunks. Only in Ireland, I think, could you have a gardening store with a waterfall next to it…you can’t make this stuff up.

The kids loved it – the older ones thought it was cute and enjoyed the scenery, while Arjun alternately swung between calling it all make believe but then also knocking on the door to the leprechaun house to see if anyone was home.

He never did get an answer, but I told him I could’ve sworn I saw one of the curtains move  

“343: A Number You’ll Never Forget”

“343: a number you’ll never forget.”

Our tour guide, Dermott, challenged us to guess the significance of “three-four-three” while en route to Cork City. He promised us that once we discovered the answer to “343” we would never forget. We were approaching the town of Kinsale, so our guesses were centered around that small city, which boasts a great food scene as well as a historic (and very large) 400 year old fort called Charles Fort. Everyone on the bus took guesses; the number of soldiers at Charles Fort, the original population of Kinsale, the number of towns and cities in Ireland, and on and on. Not even Mom, the ultimate brains behind this vacation, knew where we were headed. As we pulled up to our destination we were all surprised.

We had arrived at a unique and deeply touching 9/11 memorial. The significance of 343 was the number of FDNY firefighters killed in the line of duty on 9/11. And the memorial Dermott had taken us to contained 343 trees, each planted for a fallen firefighter. It was called the “Kinsale 9/11 Garden of Remembrance” and its founder, Kathleen Murphy, was a Kinsale native and friend of Father Michael Judge, the FDNY chaplain who was killed on 9/11. Kathleen Murphy had been working in NYC as a Lenox Hill Hospital nurse on September 11, 2001.

The memorial was beautiful in every way. Trees were planted in rows which offered a sense of thoughtful order. But within that order, each tree was unique; a variety of species, sizes, and shapes. And affixed on each tree was a placard containing a firefighter’s name. Many trees were adorned with mementos, including t-shirts, hats, FDNY pins, and even pictures. The memorial swept out towards a downward sloping hill, offering expansive views of the gorgeous countryside.

In the center of the site was a small statue and plaque, commemorating the firefighters who had died; this itself had become a living memorial, adorned with hats, shirts, pins, and patches from civil service organizations from across the world, many from America. Almost like visitors who happened upon the plaque decided last minute to donate the hat or pin they were wearing, a spur-of-the moment tribute.

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It was striking and for me a bit haunting to see how much space is taken up by 343 trees; like an echo of the scope and depth of what was lost on 9/11.

Kathleen Murphy died in March 2011 and there is now a memorial garden devoted to her in the middle of the site, with a stone explaining her role. Her memorial to the 9/11 firefighters lives on.

Milleennahorna, Our Ancestral Home in Skibbereen, County Cork

In 1929 Mom’s dad, John O’Sullivan, left this 2-story farmhouse (picture below) to emigrate to New York City. He wouldn’t return for 30 years. John left behind his parents, Cornelius & Johanna, and seven siblings: Julia, Ellen, Gerard, Timothy, Mary, Lilian, and Katherine.

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The home is called Milleennahorna, and it’s located near Skibbereen in County Cork, Ireland. It now sits on about 130 acres of farmland that mostly produces grass. In 1929 it would have been a self-sustaining farm with cows, pigs, chickens, and other livestock.

John, called Jack by his family and friends, was 21 when he left Milleennahorna. It was a rough start when he landed in America; he nearly died of appendicitis on the steamship voyage across the sea and then, six months later, the stock market crashed setting off the Great Depression.

But John found his footing.

He would study for and pass exams to earn employment as a stationary engineer at St Joseph’s Hospital, apprenticing in exchange for room & board. He earned extra money by gardening the hospital grounds, infusing some of his prior life from the Irish farmstead into urban NYC. Upon completion of his apprenticeship he worked at General Diaper Company, a cleaning service where he helped operate and manage the heavy machinery.

In 1940 he married Mary Foley, who had emigrated from Glenbeigh, County Kerry in 1928. Within a few years Mom and her sister Joan were born.

John and Mary built an impressive new life in America; despite arriving in the late 1920s with virtually no wealth or property to their names, by 1943 they owned their own home in Woodside, Queens, and by 1947 they had purchased a dry cleaning business on Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. They later purchased a new, larger and single family home closer to the business in Elmhurst. It was in this house, decades later, where we grandkids would visit him.

All told, John returned to Ireland only three times after emigrating in 1929; first in 1959 with his family and twice more in the 1970s on his own. The 1959 trip is when Mom first met most of her family; aunts, uncles, cousins…that trip would be formative in creating the transatlantic family bonds that would be strengthened over the years, continuing into today.

John’s immigrant journey was like so many others; it was full of hard work and determination. He survived a grueling journey across the Atlantic, re-skilled himself at least twice over, got married, owned his own home and successful small business with his wife, and started a family. He left many family members behind in his home country that he later revisited; I imagine it was extremely difficult – bittersweet, truly – to have a foot in two countries for so long, especially when neither communication nor travel were as easy or accessible as compared with today. He passed away, at home in Elmhurst, in 1988 at the age of 80.

This past Saturday, 89 years after John departed Milleennahorna, five of his great-grandchildren – Kate, Brooke, Ethan, Indira, and Arjun – returned. The great-grandkids were treated to a special horse and carriage ride by generous O’Sullivan family friends who drove out from Cork City for the day with their show horse just for the occasion. John’s nephew (and Mom’s 1st cousin), Sean O’Sullivan, arranged it, and then hosted the adults in the kitchen with tea, scones and conversation. It was a short but very meaningful visit back to our ancestral home. Milleennahorna is a home that connects us to many of the cousins we’ve met on this trip; our cousins’ grandparents were John’s siblings, and now – nearly 90 years later – many of us are having kids, stretching out a new layer of branches on the family tree with the great-grandkids.

I was only 12 when Grandpa died in 1988. My memories of him are limited but I remember the way he talked, laughed, and I can picture his face when he smiled. I’m struck by how I can see my memories in some of my relatives faces and hear my memories in some of their voices. The cadence or sound of speech or the way eyes crinkle when a person smiles. It’s a really happy surprise, quite frankly, to be reminded of Grandpa through this visit with his nephews and nieces on this trip, and even with some of the grand-kin. And it’s a reminder of the power of staying connected with family and understanding not just where your roots are….but who the other branches are on the family tree.

Good Luck, Breakthrough, on the #RingOKerry Cycle Ride!

The Leddy’s and D’Souza’s are sending best wishes to Breakthrough Cancer Research! Breakthrough is one of many teams cycling around the Ring of Kerry today in an effort to raise funds for local charities.

Breakthrough is the legacy of Mom’s first cousin Gerry O’Sullivan, an esteemed surgeon who founded Cork Cancer Research Centre, which is at the cutting edge of immunotherapy research in the aim to cure cancer. Gerry passed away in 2012 but his legacy and mission live on through CCCR and Breakthrough Cancer Research Centre, which now serves as charitable fundraising organization for the cutting edge research. Breakthrough is a family mission; Gerry’s son, Gearoíd worked for Cork Cancer Research Centre as a research scientist in the early 2000s, his other two children, Orla and Eoghan, work for Breakthrough and were part of the team today in the cycling event, and his wife Breda assists with many of the events and fund raisers as well, including the #RingOKerry cycle ride. 

We Leddy’s did a quick well wishes video in Skibbereen…a bit of a jumble at first but in the end we got down the all-as-one cheer!!  We were sending our love to our family, and our best wishes to the entire Breakthrough team!

We later visited a memorial to Gerry in Skibbereen – it is in progress, a life-size bronze statue of Gerry is still to be added to an 8-ton stone that currently sits in the middle of the park – but it was amazing to visit and see what is planned. What a testament to Gerry and his legacy. The planned memorial includes a large green/open-space park with the bronze statue in the center. The statue will be surrounded with stones in the ground engraved with quotes that speak to Gerry’s memory and impact on the world.

One stone contains a quote from James Watson, one of the co-founders of DNA. Watson said of Gerry:

“He was so unique standing strong above those who worshipped his first surgical skills and then his determination to move from treating, to truly curing cancer.” – James Watson, Nobel Laureate & co-founder of DNA.

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