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May the luck of the Irish be there with you.

Happy St Patrick’s day to you all… and especially to those with Irish heritage. It’s such a fascinating history.

Did you know…? Along with Patrick and Columcille, Brigid is one of three patron saints of Ireland. More recently St Brigid is being termed as the ‘matron saint‘ of Ireland and the only woman honoured with a public holiday.

For the first time, Ireland is observing a public holiday in honour of St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc (1 February), an ancient pagan holy day associated with the goddess Brigid and heralding the coming of spring. 

According to Rev. Philip McKinley, curate of St. Brigid’s Cathedral, “St. Brigid is a very, very modern saint that speaks to the really cutting-edge issues of our day — gender equality, environmental issues, social care, poverty, and peace making.” She sounds like my idea of a strong female character.

St Brigid is the patron saint to an unusual array of individuals including  poets, midwives, newborns, Irish nuns, fugitives, blacksmiths, dairymaids, boatmen, chicken farmers, cattle, scholars, sailors, and…. no doubt many more. She was a brewer of ale, compassionate, generous, pious and a slave at birth. That is some story of its own.

This week, I’d like you to meet my character, Martha. She was born in Coleraine in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1833. One of seven girls with one brother, she outlived them all. She died in 1915 at the age of 82 having survived her husband by 30 years.

While she grew up and lived most of her life in Co. Antrim, the chance of better work took the family to Scotland in the 1880s where she spent the rest of her life. It wasn’t unusual for Northern Irish families to migrate between home and Scotland seeking work. Her husband was a carter, her youngest son became a mason, her daughters were dressmakers, servants and laundresses. Theirs was not an easy life. Of her seven children, one son emigrated; she never saw him again, and she buried four daughters, worn out before their time. Her youngest son cared for her in her old age.

Her story, like Sarah’s is not uncommon. Death was the norm. Life was cheap. Work was hard, and naming patterns were maintained. In this family it was the paternal side that was confusing. Five generations of Andrew, none of whom had a middle name, each of whom named one son Robert, who in turn named their son Andrew. Where to start? But when they all live within a stone’s throw of each other, the dates give the story away.

With a history like theirs, who can resist writing stories about the country whose past can sometimes be depressingly sad but where the people have a happy-go-lucky attitude, great music, and loads of humour? The Irish love their tea, to moan about everything in a light-hearted banter and are ‘always up for a craic’.

The scenery is stunning, the history dark, the pubs like nowhere else on earth and the story-telling tradition alive and well.

I wrote about St Brigid in my novel Brigid The Girl from County Clare, and how her namesake carried the woven cross, usually made from straw and associated with St Brigid, with her on her journey to Australia and New Zealand.

Irish family trees are known to be difficult to trace because so many of the Public Records Office holdings were destroyed by fire in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. However, much survived if you know where to look, including the 1901 and 1911 census returns and many Church records (although it’s worth the effort to visit the local parish to find them if you can).

There’s no time like the present to start creating your Family Tree. It’s a fascinating and rewarding hobby and teaches us much about ourselves, our ancestors, and our history. If you’d like to know more – just ask.

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