Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 27, 2008

On a clear day

"OK, I'm going to show you the route I want to take. See if you can follow it on the map."

Those and similar words strike fear in my heart. I am not a good map reader.

"This is where we are and I'd like you to let me know when we reach this point," husband Art added, his finger tracing a path over what were obviously rural roads.

It didn't help that I was operating on only the sleep I had been able to catch on the plane. We had left Manhattan at 9 a.m. on Monday, May 26, driven to Kansas City and then flown first to Chicago and then on to Dublin, arriving at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Back home, it was 2 a.m. We had picked up the rental car and immediately pointed it toward the motor way. Our destination was a self-catering cottage near Larne, northeast of Belfast. It was to be our home base for the next week while we attempted to learn as much as we could about my Freeland, Stewart and Shannon ancestors, all of whom had come from Northern Ireland.

We zipped through the roundabout heading north, made a few turns and soon I was uncertain where we were. If older daughter Mariya had been with us, she would have been sitting in the navigator's seat. I quickly lose my place, being distracted by everything passing by. But she can put the map in her lap, watch the scenery, listen to the music piped into one ear from the earbud connected to her MP3 player and still issue a calm "Go left" or some similar direction as we approach a corner. But the girls wouldn't be joining us for a week, so it was up to me to help get us where we were going.

"I'm not sure where we are," I said.

"That's OK. I think I can find what I'm looking for," Art responded.

"Here it is," he added a few seconds later as he slowed abruptly.

I didn't know either where we were or why we were there, but I knew Art had a plan. Outside the car, almost everything was some shade of lush green. An exception was the black paved road that I felt was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, but locals would have found it more than adequately wide. Another branch of the road off to the right was only half as wide. To the left, was a small home tucked into the trees and vegetation.

But Art wasn't looking at any of those. Instead, he was studying what appeared to be little more than a trail passing to the right of the home. The road we were on skirted a large hill and so was level. But the trail rose steeply.

"You're not going up there?" I asked.

"Sure, why not?" he answered.

He shifted into first gear and we began our ascent. The car lurched as we hit the first of several ridges.

"I hope you don't ruin the car," I said.

"Not my car," Art replied.

We slowly moved up the narrow lane, foliage gently scraping along the sides of the car.

"We have to go two-tenths of a mile," Art commented.

I was now pretty sure where we were going.

Eventually the lane opened into a wide place curving to the right. As we turned, a home I had seen only in a picture came into view. It looked different, for it was obvious that extensive remodeling was underway. The tiny sloping room on the left side had been replaced, and what had been outbuildings for the small farm had been converted into a pair of cottages. Toys scattered here and there indicated children called this place home.

But for me, this was the place where James Shannon, my great, great, great, great-grandfather had raised his family. And when he died, his oldest son took over, meaning that younger son Robert and his family had to leave, for the farm was not large enough to support the growing families of all of James's children.

And so, one day in 1849, my great, great, great-grandparents Robert and Rose and their large brood made their way to the harbor in Larne and said their "goodbyes" to friends and family, almost none of whom they would ever see again. One hundred fifty-nine years have passed since then and it was a strange feeling to know I was in the very place they had lived.

Looking to the east, something came to mind from a letter Jennie Shannon, who was only 1 when her family left, wrote to my great-grandmother. Jennie said her mother Rose had told her that on a clear day they could see the mountains of Scotland.

And I could see them, too. They were faint because it was a hazy day, but they were visible. This was indeed a memorable way to begin our vacation.

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