When my husband, Jake Riley, announced that he needed to travel to Ireland to continue his genealogical research, our three children (then ages 16, 18 and 21) and I became newly supportive of his hobby. Admittedly, in the past, all four of us were guilty of tuning him out when he shared discovery of yet another generation of Rileys. His frequent lectures on the family tree, fueled over the years by his research tours of New England cemeteries and libraries, were met with rolling eyes and theatrical yawns. The lure of a trip to Ireland, however, brought a rush of family pride and our excited cheer of “Slainte!”
We decided to arrange the trip without a tour operator, using it as a chance to model to our children how to travel independently - and on a budget. We cut back on Christmas gifts and spent the holiday planning our summer vacation. The kids helped me design the week-long trip, pricing out options for transportation, accommodations and activities. The internet, a great support tool for my husband’s research, also made access to Ireland’s best attractions just a mouse-click away. We had all reservations locked in by February and five months later, we drove from our Florida home to New York’s JKF International Airport to take advantage of the most economical flight – Delta direct to Dublin. Once there, we began using our 3-Day “Freedom” passes for Dublin Bus transport from the airport to our first stop, Upper O’Connell Street, where we grabbed our bags and walked a block to the charming Cassidy’s Hotel.
We stayed three nights in the capital city, enjoying the convenience of being able to walk or catch transportation right from O’Connell Street. We dedicated part of our days to support Jake with his research by poring over historic documents at the Dublin Library. The kids broke away to picnic at the nearby St. Stephens Green (a scenic urban park), or hang out like their Irish peers at the contemporary Stephens Green Shopping Center. We took some time to tour historic Trinity College and the surprisingly modern Guinness Storehouse. (Don’t miss a drink and the view from their seventh floor Gravity Bar.) Evenings were spent in the Temple Bar district perusing vintage clothing shops, watching street performers, and of course, eating and drinking at pubs like Quays. On our last evening in Dublin we joined other tourists at the Arlington Hotel aside the river Liffey. We enjoyed a traditional dinner while singing and clapping along to their Knightsbridge Irish Dancing Night.
We then ventured out of the city and toward the northwest in a ridiculously small rental car, laughing when we noticed that the hub caps were secured with plastic zip-ties. Upon exiting the N5 highway, we began to understand the old Irish blessing, “stay between the ditches.” We eventually found our destination - County Cavan, homeland of the Riley clan. We had made reservations at a Cavan area bed and breakfast, the Fortview House, after reading that the hostess, Catherine Smith, was an amateur genealogist. And in fact, Catherine was a wealth of information, telling us about families such as the O’Farrells and O’Reillys who were prominent in the region, and of their centuries-long animosity with the British. She suggested we also speak with genealogist Jude Flynn of County Longford. Although semi-retired, this elderly but energetic historian answered his cell phone on the first ring and agreed to meet us at the Longford Roots Genealogical Research Office.
We squeezed into our car for another white-knuckle road trip of rolling hills, round-a-bouts and wandering sheep. Within an hour, we drove past the Royal Canal and into a vibrant Longford city center. We maneuvered amongst lunch hour traffic through the winding streets, past a cathedral and brightly painted storefronts and a surprising number of signs advertising Reilly’s or O’Reilly’s. We had found our ancestral home, but still faced the very modern challenge of finding a place to park.