Monday, December 13, 2010

Cuimhnigh I Gconai {Always Remember}

There was nothing in the world that made my grandmother more proud than bragging about being Irish.
Oh sure, she would beam with pride at our many accomplishments as we grew, but nothing could set the twinkle in her eyes alight as when she could brag to you that she was pure bred, 100% Irish.
My maternal side of the family has always been such a huge part of our everyday lives.
 Even growing up continents away from my mother's sister never made us feel like distant relatives. Although I knew darn well that my father's side hailed directly from Scotland and that our last name was actually the same as a river that runs through Aberdeen, I always thought of myself as being Irish.
I think my grandmother brainwashed us.
If you asked her what nationalities my grandfather was, she would wave a hand dismissively and most likely say, "Aw, he's just a mutt!"
She told us how her father, Thomas Higgins, was the youngest of 5 siblings raised by his widowed mother during the potato famine.
There was hardly enough food for all of them, and when an American missionary couple offered to bring my great grandfather back to the US with them and raise him, she could not deny him the chance.
With what must have been an aching heart, she kissed her son farewell at the tender age of 12 or so, and sent him to New York for the chance at a better life.

His adopted family wanted him to enter the seminary and become a priest, and from I can remember, he was on track to do just that until he met a young Irish woman, Kate Branigan, whose family had settled here, having fled the poverty and starvation themselves.
As the story goes, Thomas' adoptive family was none to pleased about his meeting Kate and becoming fond of her, and cut ties with him when he realized he could never fulfill their wishes for his future.
14 children later, Kate and Tom brought my grandmother into this world. 

I took a trip to Ireland in November of 1993 when I was 19, just turning 20.
I flew into Shannon, with a backpack and a boyfriend, riding a rickety bus up to Galway city with plans to make my way back down the coastline however I saw fit.
My grandmother handed me a piece of paper with an address on it of some of her immediate family that lived just north of Galway in a small town called Headford.
I promised her I would try to get there.

I never made it. 
Bus schedules left my mode of transportation back to be hitchiking if there was no hotel or bed and breakfast in the town.
Since this was before cell phones, or google maps, I decided it was not ideal.
My grandmother was disappointed, but she understood.

I bought my first fisherman's sweater on that trip.
The Irish knitted the patterns into the sweaters so they could tell apart their loved ones, if they were tragically lost at sea.
This is not the sweater I bought back in '93.
But I always have one,somewhere in my closet.
One that reminds me of breathing in that cool, salty sea air , staring up at those endless blue skies, miles and miles of gorgeous green fields and the twinkling eyes of my grandmother as she would say, "But you're still not 100% Irish like me!"

sweater: made in ireland
skirt: vintage, thrifted
knee socks: target
boots: style & co


  1. Good story! I am pretty jealous of your irish and scottish ancestry. I'm kind of a mutt on both sides, I have no idea where my family is from or any history and i have no living grandparents. It's sad that I didnt get to hear about family way back when but you don't choose your family! (if only! ha)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing! Your grandmother was a lovely lady!


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