I’ve long retired the word coincidence. I’ve experienced too many amazing circumstances, incidences of time and space colliding together for good in my life, to assume that they all just tumbled out of the bag that way. The nearest I’ll come to this expression is to use the word serendipity, which I borrowed from Scott Peck many, many years ago. Call it what you will, but what are the chances that just days before my feet at long last touch Irish soil, my aunt Becky would send me the first installment of my ancestral chart, which neatly locates three and four boxes back from mine the last of our line to be born in the land of clover? Luck of the Irish? Anna Collins, born in Ireland in 1862, Henry McGivern born about 1835, and best of all, Maggie, born just as the potato famine was starting to decimate the population of Ireland in 1845.
I’m relishing the solitude as I walk along the coast from my room at the Redbank Inn in Skerries to the Stoop Your Head Tavern which was recommended to me by the two “native” women on my flight. And they were right, dinner was delicious. But more than my taste-buds have been tantalized. I think I would never tire of hearing the lovely Irish lilt, especially when it comes from the likes of the little girls sitting next to me. Katie is the oldest of the three and most curious about the single woman writing in her little pink notebook and eavesdropping on her family. Maybe Maggie was about Katie’s age when hunger drove her family to look for the land of plenty. I might never know when and why Maggie sought American soil, but I do know that she survived the five year famine, which reduced the population of Ireland by a quarter. I,600,000 people either starved to death, succumbed to disease or fled Ireland by the time a new census was taken in 1851. I also know she survived the harrowing voyage across unfriendly seas in the overcrowded “coffin ships,” which took the lives of many hundreds more.
As I pay my check with a little plastic card, I can’t help but smile. Maggie made it, Married an English man and had a daughter. An American daughter. Maggie, we’re back, and there is plenty of food in Ireland now!