I met my parents in Berlin on October first. Mom and I were, of course, instantly crying happy tears. The hugs were big and long, as were the smiles. It was so comforting and relaxing to be in the easy and familiar company of loved ones.
We spent the first couple days sightseeing in Berlin, and then traveling to Hannover to visit our old exchange student Julian. I had visited both Berlin and Julian in January, and loved getting to see my parents experience the same thing. In Berlin we took a Segway tour, which was fun, informative, and a great way to see an overview of the city center. It also just made my Mom want a Segway to zip around on regularly, much to my Dad’s amused exasperation. The whole Germany leg of the trip was essentially a great break for me, mentally, emotionally, and photographically. I didn’t take any pictures on my camera.
Next we headed via train to the real heart of our trip: Prague. When I first visited this city ten years ago I was just enchanted by it, and couldn’t wait to experience it again with Mom and Dad. It did not disappoint. We got there on a clear sunny day at golden hour. It took us a little longer than it could have to walk to our hotel because Mom kept stopping to take pictures as we stared starry-eyed at the beautiful city. Our hotel was converted from an old convent and was situated down a little alley of a street. It had so much character and constantly made Mom and me remark at how cool it was that we got to stay there.
The following days were spent walking the city, taking tours, seeing the sights and eating so much good food. The floodgates opened again, and I took copious amounts of photos. Luckily Mom was right alongside me doing the exact same thing and Dad was a good sport for putting up with us. One morning Mom and I got up at dawn to go take pictures along the Charles Bridge and in Old Town, returning to join Dad for breakfast. All around, it was a wonderful time in Prague.
At the end of our stay in Prague we rented a car and drove to Slovakia. This leg of the trip was visiting locations that Mom’s family has immigrated from. We stayed in the town of Spišská Nová Ves, where our delightful and welcoming Airbnb host couldn’t speak any English, nor could anyone else we encountered. Google translate helped us immensely during this time. After failing to be seated at one restaurant the night we arrived, we thankfully found a pizza place that allowed us to order via pointing and miming after we translated the menu on our phones. We spent the whole next day in the car, Dad bravely driving us around to several towns in the area where our family came from. During this day the shutter broke on my camera, imposing a break from shooting. (Don’t worry, the camera is now fixed, but I did keep Mom’s camera to use for the rest of my trip.)
Continuing on, we took a fun pitstop in Vienna. The city totally captivated us. It is grand and beautiful and begged us to come back. I particularly loved the crosswalks that had same-sex and opposite-sex couples on them. I also realized that Vienna was home to one of my favorite artist and has his work in many collections, so I will be making a pilgrimage back there to see as many Klimpt painting as I can.
We crossed back into the Czech Republic to visit more villages were Mom’s ancestors used to live. We actually had supposed addresses to try to locate. However, there doesn’t seem to be any method to the street numbers. They jump around in no apparent order, and seem to be able to be changed depending on the occupant. It did make for some interesting Google translate interactions with mildly confused locals, though.
Finally we made our way back to Prague, where I would be spending the next 3 weeks, and where Mom and Dad would catch their train back to Berlin to fly home. It was a weird thing to wave goodbye to them as their train pulled away. But I would see them again in a months time, and I got to spend more time in this city that I love.
I was sad to leave Ireland behind me, but next on my list was Poznan, Poland. It would be my first time in Poland and the first time in months that I would be in a non-English speaking country. Honestly, I was rather nervous about having a language barrier again. But I ended up having no real problems interacting at restaurants and museums with just the basic pleasantries in Polish.
I flew in and then took a bus to the main train station in town. Not knowing what to really expect, I was surprised to find that most of the greater city is relatively modern. My hostel was towards the heart of Poznan though, in the older part of the city which I loved.
The old town square is absolutely stunning and seemed to be pulled right from the pages of a fairytale. Simply walking around it was my favorite part. On the free walking tour I took, I learned about the local lore of a feast celebrating the construction of the town hall around 1560. After the original meal burned, two goats were chosen and brought to the kitchens. Somehow the goats escaped and began fighting in front of all of the guests. Apparently this was very amusing, and warranted the mayor to commission a commemorative clock with two goats that fight every day at noon. The clock and its goats are still there, and I got to see them head-butting at high noon.
One morning I tried the classic local St. Martin’s Croissant; a pastry filled with an almond and poppy seed paste, and topped with icing and nuts. It is filling and delicious. I visited the town hall museum, which had beautiful interiors and exhibits on the history of the city, like medieval guilds, and Nazi occupation. I wandered into beautiful church interiors, and through lovely little streets. One afternoon I treated myself to a meal outside in the old town square. The mulled wine was cozy and the traditional duck blood soup was actually really tasty. My last night there I went out with a group of travelers from my hostel. We ended up at a karaoke bar, where we were very obviously the only non-locals. It was a very fun time, and a unique entertaining end to my stay in Poznan.
Next I would be heading back to Berlin!
My time in Ireland was planned to make sure I visited the locations I could directly connect with my family tree. It's quite a challenge to trace ancestors in Ireland as records were not always consistently kept, and those that were have suffered from losses due to fires and poor conditions. When I did find information it was so exciting, and then getting to visit those places my ancestors were from was an amazing experience. Here are images from these places.
1821 - The McShane's - Shore Road, Dundalk, County Louth
My 4th great grandparents John McShane and Mary Quin were living on Shore Road when their daughter Jane McShane, my 3rd great grandmother, was baptized on May 10th, 1821. The road still exists and I walked it all the way until in dead-ends into the coastline.
1821 - Bridget Burnes - County Louth
On October 10th, 1821, my 3rd great grandmother Bridget Burnes was born somewhere in County Louth.
1855 - The Markey's - 77 Dublin St, Dundalk, County Louth
My 3rd great grandparents, Hugh Markey and Jane McShane, were renting a house and yard on this property in 1855 when Griffith's Valuation of Irish properties was taken. There is now an interior design shop on the location, next to a curry house and across the street from a Ford dealership.
Current castelwellan walshes
My family has been in contact with this family for years. I think these Walshes are related to us through the father of Patrick Walsh, my 3rd great grandfather, and the last Walsh of my line to be born in Ireland. Thomas Walsh Sr, and his son and grandchildren all live in and around Castelwellan where Patrick was born.
1816 - Patrick Walsh - Castelwellan, County Down
Patrick Walsh, my 3rd great grandfather was born in Castelwellan in 1816. Thomas Walsh Sr. drove me around the countryside and pointed out homes that had Walsh roots back generations. Thomas lives next to St. Patrick's Church, which has the graves of many Walshes, but was built after the time of my 3rd great grandfather.
1830 - The Murphy's - Belfast, County Antrim
My 4th great grandparents Owen Murphy and Catherine Renehan were living in Belfast when they had Bridget Murphy, my 3rd great grandmother, in 1830. She and her family were Catholic, and she did not feel safe living under English rule. I couldn't find any address for them, but I spent time taking pictures in the historically Catholic neighborhood in Belfast.
1821 - Thomas Quigley - County Mayo
Thomas Quigley, my 3rd great grandfather, was born somewhere in County Mayo in 1821. Not knowing more specifics I spent a night in Westport, and took pictures there as well as in the countryside.
After leaving Galway I had just over 3 weeks left in Ireland. I was based outside the city of Cork and took little trips to different towns in southwest Ireland.
The first stop en route to Cork was Killarney. I chose this town entirely because of the Bing Crosby song Christmas in Killarney. We listen to it every holiday season and I just love it. There was no way I was passing up a chance to visit. It was a lovely little town, were I had delicious food and enjoyed the street performance of some young boys dancing and playing music.
Top of my list from Cork was to visit Blarney, and like any good Irish-American, kiss the Blarney Stone. The castle itself was really interesting and set on beautiful grounds. After an hour long wait I finally got to kiss the stone, and hopefully I have now obtained it’s gift of eloquence.
Another day trip I took was to the coastal town of Kinsale. It’s a quaint and colorful harbor town. When my parents visited Ireland 2 years ago this was my mom’s favorite town, so I had to visit. I loved the winding little roads with brightly colored buildings. At the entrance of the harbor is an old English fort which I took a tour of and enjoyed very much. I would happily go back and spend more time here, as there seem to an impressively high number of bookstores and delicious looking restaurants.
A little bit of time was spent in Cork city as well. There was more bustle here, with a lively city center. I loved The English Market and the pedestrian roads around there. What I liked most was finding all the interesting little details that can sometimes be easy to overlook.
Lastly I headed back to Dublin to catch my flight out of Ireland. It was sad to leave, but I was excited for the next leg of my trip!
I took a day trip from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way I got to see a lot of really cool sights. One of my favorite little things was spotting thatched cottages along the way. They are so charming. We stopped at Dunguaire Castle for a quick and stunning view. Then we drove through the Burren National Park, which is a strange rocky landscape. I ended up being more interested in the dry-stone walls that divide up the countryside. They’re fascinating to me. There’s no mortar to hold them together, it’s just gravity and perfectly fitted stones with enough space in between them for the wind to whip through. Another stop was to see the Celtic crosses in Kilfenora, which were lovely. Last, but certainly not least, were the Cliffs of Moher. I walked all along them, watching the different waves of rain make their way in off the water. The height of the cliffs is so impressive, and the scale is hard to fathom. I loved sitting by the edge and taking it all in. The day was perfectly wrapped up when a rainbow appeared on the drive back to Galway.
After leaving Dorothy’s I headed down the west coast of Ireland. I spent a night in the town of Westport in County Mayo and got back in the swing of traveling solo again. The town was lovely and I simply took pictures and enjoyed a meal at a pub.
Then I headed to Galway. I completely loved this city. There are street performers everywhere and most of the pubs have live performers or local jam sessions nightly. My stay was filled with music and it was amazing. I took a free walking tour and learned about the history of the city. We went to see parts of the old medieval walls, which are strangely preserved in a modern shopping center. I walked through the Claddagh, now a neighborhood of Galway. It was once a separate town across the river where the local population of Irish lived, while the ruling English lived in the walled city, and it is where the Claddagh ring originated. I wear a Claddagh ring that my parents got for me, so it was wonderful to get to see it’s historical roots. I had fish and chips, and one night I went out dancing; everything was a blast. Mostly though, I spent my time in Galway wandering and doing street photography. In such a vibrant, bustling town it was the perfect place for it.
Westport, County Mayo
The best part about my stay in Ballymena was forming lasting connections with the people I met there. I cannot say enough how much this place came to feel like home because of the wonderful group of supportive people that became a part of my life.
Dorothy is a force of nature, sharp as a tack, and so much fun. She can do anything, from felling trees with her several chainsaws, to whipping up a batch of jammy dodger cookies in 10 minutes flat, to analyzing interpersonal communication skills. The day trips she took both Lea and I on were spent talking for hours, and often extended to more conversation over dinner and wine. We became very close and I will always consider her family and friend. I loved getting to know her daughters Cora and Neve, and getting the chance to see Neve play for the Ulster Women’s Rugby team.
Just down the street from Dorothy lives her father, John. He is such a good natured man, always with a smile on his face. He would join us for dinner or afternoon tea on occasion, and was eager to lend a hand around the house or garden any way he could. I loved hearing is stories of growing up in Wales during World War II, or about how his mother was a great painter and his father was a published mathematician. John himself is a painter, and he uses it as a sort of meditation. When he paints everything else recedes into the background. He also keeps bees, and Dorothy lovingly says that he looks like an astronaut Winnie the Pooh in his bee suit.
There were some of Dorothy’s friends that became my own as well. I never got a picture of Alex, but she is a spunky Northern Irish woman who I enjoyed very much. Then there was Jo and her whole family. Jo is a kind, smart and welcoming person. She persistently asked after my photography and ended up coordinated me doing a little presentation of my different photo projects to their friend group in Ballymena. She let me document her beekeeping, which is so cool. I learned so much. My day of shadowing Jo and her bees also included lunch with, and made by, her mother Judy, who I got to know at several of the friend gatherings and who is a delight. She recently moved to Ballymena from the Lake District in England, and is loving living in Northern Ireland. We bonded over both being left handed.
I also become close with Jo’s son, Gus, who is a documentary filmmaker. We had a lot to bond over with movies and documentary subjects, not to mention that he is a funny guy and just great human. He showed me around Belfast and we also caught a couple of movies in Ballymena, followed of course, by analyzing them like the good film geeks we are.
Dorothy hosted another traveler while I was there, Lea from Switzerland who is so sweet. We made a good team, and made also sorts of tasty dinners and treats. Lea was the instigator of the glamor shoot and the rugby lesson that I went to, and my time there would not have been the same without her. We left Ballymena on the same day, and there were more than a few tears shed.
The whole gang was just the greatest and I am so thankful to have found my adopted Northern Irish family.
Back at Dorothy’s we decided to have a photoshoot. Another traveler, Lea from Switzerland, was staying with Dorothy as well and she suggested that we take advantage of Dorothy’s beautiful house and gardens, and the fact that I’m a photographer. We pulled dresses from the collections of Dorothy and her two daughters Neve and Cora, both of who joined us throughout the day. Then we played dress up all day and took pictures. It was just the best time.
My good friend and former DC roommate, Sarah, has been getting her Masters in London, so we planned a weekend together in Belfast while I was staying with Dorothy. It was so wonderful to be able to see Sarah and hang out in a fantastic city together. Our first stop was one of my favorite places in the city, the Crown, a gorgeous Victorian pub. Dark rich wood, intricate ceiling designs, and booths with doors. It feels straight out of a movie and I absolutely love it. What’s great is that if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat in a booth you are likely going to be sharing it with at least one other group of strangers. We made friends with the group of women that were in ours and it was great fun.
Both Sarah and I love Game of Thrones, and since so much of it was shot in Northern Ireland we couldn’t pass up the chance to take a tour to different filming locations. So one day we spent on a tour bus geeking out over the show and taking in the stunning landscapes of the country. The tour also included a stop a Giant’s Causeway, because why not, so I got to see that again. I absolutely loved the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It is suspended high above the rocky coast and leads you to an island. Workers alternate allowing people to cross one way and then the other, which means a bit of a wait going either direction. And also meant that we did not allow enough time for the wait going back and nearly missed our bus! We waved it down just as it was getting to the end of the parking lot. Much too close for comfort, haha, but we were happy to get back to Belfast without any other excitement.
During our time in Belfast we walked through different neighborhoods, both Protestant and Catholic, and sought out the murals the city is known for. I always love street art and Belfast did not disappoint. We spent the evening in the Cathedral District bar hopping and having the best time. Then Sarah headed back to London. I will visit her again in London right before going back to the states, and I am really looking forward to getting to hang out with her more in her adopted city.
Dorothy took me to visit several towns around Northern Ireland. First on the list was Derry, known for its intact medieval city walls and as the location of the start of the Troubles. The city walls were so cool to see and walk along, but I was most interested in the street art in the Catholic neighborhood of Bogside. The history of the Troubles was never something we learned in school. I only started learning modern Irish history after college when I picked up books on historical topics I was personally curious about. Spending time in Northern Ireland let me learn even more, and see where history happened. I heard from people who had actually been there during the Troubles, and how, like any country, Northern Ireland is so much more than a single part of their history.
As a whiskey lover I couldn’t miss Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery, so one day we visited the Bushmills. We took a tour, which included a delicious tasting in a beautiful setting. Other days we passed through lovely little towns like Glenarm and Killyleagh. I loved the charm of these places, and their timelessness.
On several occasions I went in to Belfast. I did some genealogy research there, which didn’t turn anything up but I was glad I had the opportunity to do. Dorothy’s daughter Neve plays rugby, and one day I took an intro to rugby class through one of her teams. It was really fun, and I even made a try. Other times I just got to wander the city and take it all in. By the end I really felt like I knew a bit of the city.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.