Some Irish Connections

Click below to hear my cousin Bob Fleming discuss how he rediscovered our family’s irish roots.

Writing and Ireland

Working on the biography of John Main with Neil and going to Ireland with him earlier ( a first for both of us) must somehow had an encouraging effect on my own interest in writing.

Neil had been asked to write the biography of a remarkable Benedictine Monk, John Main, who had been invited by Bishop Crowley to found a monastery right in the heart of Montreal, based on an ancient tradition of silent meditation found in early Christianity. This, at a time when many English-speaking Montrealers were leaving the city in the wake of the FLQ crisis.

Going to Ireland sparked Neil’s interest in his own O’Shea ancestors (on his mother’s side) and my determination to find the farm that our Fleming family (on my mother’s side) had left in 1847, in the midst of the famine. Neil’s family were Catholic, O’Sheas from the south and McKentys from the Glens of Antrim in the far north. My family were Northern Irish Protestant, from the Dromore/Omagh area, not all that far from the Glens of Antrim as I realised later.

Those visits to Ireland with Neil strengthened my awareness of the riches of Irish history, far deeper than sectarian differences that in many cases had economic and political causes.

The long-term result was that the book I eventually wrote, Polly of Bridgewater Farm – an unknown Irish story – was reviewed in both Catholic and Protestant newspapers and accepted into Catholic, Protestant, and integrated schools in the North.

A Dublin broadcaster told me he had never realised that Protestants suffered along with Catholics during the Famine,” the Great Hunger” as it has been called. I was asked to read from the book by the mayor of Monaghan at the first ever memorial in their city of the Irish Famine. And an Omagh school principal wrote me that “we need more books like this, that speak of hope in the midst of adversity.”

All the above experiences have shown me the power of each of our stories, to build connection with other people, and to bridge differences of outlook, age and background. Also the importance of making sure these stories don’t get lost.

Catharine McKenty

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