Someday a harried business person named Cassidy, exhausted from the daily three-hour commute from a faceless suburb to a thankless job in a big American city, will take a golf trip to Ireland.
By the fifth hole at the Donegal Golf Club the executive’s gaze will wander to the captivating panorama formed by the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Bay, and the steeples of Donegal Town with the hills of Leghowney, Barnesmore Gap and the Blue Stack Mountains in the background.
Remembering stories of ancestors who came from Donegal, the American makes a few inquiries at the 19th hole. A young woman whose maiden name was Cassidy appears and within minutes is on her mobile. A car driven by a tall, broad shouldered young man, pulls up and the American hops in. “My name is Fran Cassidy and I thought it would be nice to see the place that my ancestors came from.” “Sure, that’s my name as well,” he replies. “My friends call me Frankie. I am the welcoming committee around here.”
They go on silently past the remains of the historic Abbey, where Cassidys have rested for centuries, by the famous Donegal Castle and over the River Eske. As they pass Clar Chapel, Frankie says, “That’s where our Cassidys are buried.” Fran asks him to stop for a look and is amazed at the rows and rows of Cassidy headstones surrounding the church. The headstones say Drumbar, Leghowney, Clogher or Meenadreen at the bottom. Fran asks, “How far away are these places?” “Just up the road,” says Frankie.
Within a few minutes the two young Cassidys are riding up a very narrow road past the farms of Clogher and the green hills of Leghowney and Aughlim. Dark hedges and wild flowers border the hills and fields, which are dotted with sheep and cattle. New homes, which must have extraordinary views, top some of the small hills. Frankie stops the car here and there so the stranger can view the scenery and a few old cottages. Eventually, he turns the car around, drives back down the hills, and pulls into a lane. “Come in for a sec,” he says. “They’d like to meet you.” Fran is greeted by the people of the house, is offered tea and sandwiches. “Yes, they are Cassidys.” “Are they related to Fran?” “Well, there are a lot of Cassidy families around here, you know.”
Questions are asked about where Fran lives, parents’ and grandparents’ names. Mobiles come out. Neighbours come in. As information is gathered, there are attempts to fit the pieces into the puzzle. “When did they arrive in America? Boston or New York? What do you know of your mother’s family? Will you have a beer? Do you have many brothers and sisters? What are their first names?”
“Call Michael — he’ll figure it out.” There is a pause in the investigation and the conversation turns to American presidential politics and the terrible effects of climate change on the poor people of Africa.
A tall man arrives. After greetings are exchanged, the search for truth resumes. What kind of work did they do? Did they ever come back for a visit? Do you know the Gallaghers? How about some whiskey? Stories are told. Laughter abounds. It is concluded that Fran is one of Scotty’s and a call is placed to Dublin Bus where the Drumbar Cassidy n Starai (historian) is on emergency service and has to keep one ear on business.
“Aye,” “Aye,” “Aye,” “Aye.” “Aye.” “Aye.” “Bye.”
The riddle is solved. Bad news and good news. You’re not one of us, but your Cassidys lived just up the road and we knew them all, lovely people. Scotty wants your e-mail address. He is sorry that he couldn’t talk to you but he is all tangled up in business — bus in the Liffey. Have some more whiskey. Would you like to try some poteen? Frankie will show you where they lived. Come back soon.
The next morning, outside the Abbey Hotel, Fran awaits the tour bus and the trip back to America. Reflecting on the indelible memories of the previous day, emotions kick in. Why would anyone ever leave this beautiful place and these wonderful people? I will come back.
Leaving Home is never easy.
It never was.
NEW: The Lost Battalion of World War I — The Donegal Connection — By John Cassidy