When Your Last Name is Kelley

I am well aware that the American version of the holiday diverges greatly from they way the holiday was originally observed in Ireland.  Initially, it was predominately a religious occasion dedicated to commemorating the passing of Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick.  In recent years, it has evolved into a celebration featuring parades, donning green attire and shamrocks, savoring traditional Irish foods, and yes, beer and spirits.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of experiencing St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.  My son was studying at University College Dublin, and as “luck” would have it, his spring break coincided with the holiday.  It was an unforgettable experience, and I can attest to the fervent celebrating which took place in the city.

Visiting Ireland had long been a dream of mine, particularly after tracing my family lineage to County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.  It was a surreal experience to realize that my dream was coming true.  We spent several days visiting the typical tourist sites, savoring every moment.  From the breathtaking beauty of the Cliffs of Moher to the whimsical fairy steps nestled within a rural cemetery wall, it was all very magical. Yet, it was upon reaching Norther Ireland that my heart truly soared.  This was my ancestral homeland-the place I had longed to see, and it exceeded all expectations.  We immersed ourselves in the local pubs, spending precious time with the warm, hospitable locals.  It was every bit as enchanting as I had imagined.  There was music, laughter, dancing, and even the occasional shattering of glass, but it was wild and wonderful.

However, in the middle of all the festivities, we were confronted with the reality of Northern Irelands tumultuous past, commonly referred to as “The Troubles.”  This dark chapter saw much conflict and bloodshed and lasted from the 1960s to 1998.  This portion of the trip was considerably more somber, almost reverent.

As we traveled the streets of Belfast, our guide pointed out buildings scarred by bombing, and others that had been reconstructed.  Both stood as reminders of this community’s pain and resilience.  Our visit to Derry further drove this point home as we stood in respectful silence looking at the haunting Bogside Murals, which stand as a testament of the tragic events that took place there, “Bloody Sunday” being one of the most famous.  This sobering experience made a profound impact on me, causing me to realize the importance of reflecting on the past, as the impetus for change in the future.

Our next stop was a visit to the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway.  This dramatic site is made up of 40,000 giant black basalt (volcanic rock) columns sticking out of the ocean (I am not sure who counted them all, but I took their word for it). There are several myths associated with the unusual site, but my personal favorite is a story of love and sacrifice. It involves a giant named Finn who fell in love with a Scottish maiden.  He was heartbroken that she was so far away, and he sought desperately for a way to reach her.  He settled on a plan to build a causeway that stretched all the way to Scotland so he could walk across to her.  His grandmother, however, did not want him to leave, so every evening she would call up a storm to destroy his work.  Each day he would return and rebuild, his love was that strong.  After many days of rebuilding, his strength began to fade, and he tried one last time to build.  This time he did make it to the Scotland, but the effort had been too much for his weary body and fell into his lover’s arms and died.

The retelling of this tale as well as others found in Irish mythology and folklore reminds us of just how important our history and heritage are to us, no matter what your ancestorial background.  In the passing down of stories, traditions, and celebrations, we pay honor and respect to those who have come before us, lighting the way for generations to follow. I am pleased that my children value and respect their roots.  This was evident when my son decided on his eighteenth birthday to get the Kelley crest permanently tattooed on his shoulder.  They also surprised me at Christmas this year by giving me a hand-knitted Kelley Clan scarf and yes, there were tears.

I will close with a wise Irish proverb, “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone to far.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director

Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce