In January 1972 I set off to see the world, leaving South Australia behind forever (although I didn’t know that at the time). Ireland was my first stop. I knew nothing about my ancestors, apart from my mother’s family, the Dempseys who were from County Cavan. Perhaps there was something in my blood which drew me back to Ireland.
It wasn’t a simple matter to get there. In those far-off days international air travel was still relatively expensive. The cheapest way to get to London from Adelaide was a domestic flight to Perth, then 6 days of sheer tedium on a Russian passenger ship, the Khabarovsk to Singapore and finally a charter flight to London. After recovering at a Youth Hostel in Holland Park, I took the four hour train journey to Holyhead in Wales, from where I caught a ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin.
Dublin was cold, dark and wet, a stark contrast to the heat and brilliant sunshine I’d left behind in Adelaide. It was not just the weather which was grim. This was a time when the Troubles in Northern Ireland dominated the news. A few weeks after my arrival, on 30 January 1972, the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland occurred. British soldiers shot dead 28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march. The massacre was followed by huge protests throughout Ireland, and on 2 February the British Embassy was burnt down in Merrion Square. This was my introduction to Dublin.
I spent about three months in Dublin and found it an enchanting city. I had read quite of lot of Irish literature by this time. It was thrilling to walk the streets of the city and visit places which had figured in the books I’d read: the Martello Tower at Sandycove which features in the first chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the Cliff Walk at Howth Head, to walk across the cobblestone courtyard of Trinity College and visit the Library (and yes, to see The Book of Kells), to attend a play at The Abbey Theatre. I took the bus to Dún Laoghaire Harbour and walked along the pier. Dún Laoghaire used to be called Kingstown. I wonder if any of my ancestors may have departed Ireland from this port?
Somehow Ireland didn’t feel like a foreign country. Several times strangers stopped me in the streets of Dublin to ask for directions. I was thrilled that they mistook me for a local. I realised then that I “fitted in,” that I looked Irish.
After three months I left Dublin for England. I went on to Canada, married and raised a family. I continued to travel the world for the next 40 years, returning to Ireland a couple of times, but never in search of my ancestors. Now I am ready to begin my ancestral search in earnest, to find those lost voices from the past before it is too late. I am on this quest because I want to know who these people were, but also in the hope that there may be other descendants who find this story interesting.