In the final post of the three-part story about tracing his ancestry in County Tipperary, Gerry Britt reaches an emotional conclusion in the fields of Ballyfinnane.
The night in the pub was an unforgettable one, but I was determined to keep things moving on the research front. The next day found me in the home of Eugene Shortt, a local historian and keeper of the record books. Between his files and mine we verified that my hours and months and years of searching were not in vain! I had the right family, and now knew the exact house where my ancestors lived. A feeling of relief and a sense of completion completely overwhelmed me.
Eugene [who has recently provided assistance in setting up a Historical/Visitor Centre in Upperchurch] gave me directions to a tiny area of Drombane known as Ballyfinnane, and the next morning I set out with my family from Upperchurch, down the Thurles road, turned right at Fahey’s Gas, left at the crossroads, up and around and over narrow rutted lanes bordered by high hedges, avoiding potholes that could swallow my egg-like rental car, down into Dromban village, left at the under-construction pub, past the hurling pitch, right at the creamery, past the cemetery, across the stone bridge, left at—is this the right turn?—yeah, left the t-junction, then finally a right down a short lane hidden among the hedges.
And there it was…
It was stucco-walled, shingle-roofed, with a small graveled front yard, a trash fire pit, a couple of small sheds and storage structures, and an acre of grass that may have been a paddock but was now empty. There was no one home – the last Britt, Peg, had died a few years ago and the house was now inhabited by persons unknown. We wandered about, my wife taking photos and me turning on the spot with my video cam.
When I was sure we had a visual record of every inch of the property, I called to my son and together we climbed the fence into the field. We walked a few yards in silence. I reached over and took his hand. He’s 14 and much too old to be holding his father’s hand, but he didn’t say a word. I told him to look around, breathe the air, feel the grass and the breeze and the sunshine. Remember it. The story is complete and he can tell it to his children, and to their children.
I wanted to tell him how much it meant to me that he was with me, but my throat was too tight. I couldn’t say another word. I wanted to look at him but my eyes were too wet. I put my arm around his shoulder and held him close as we walked. I didn’t want him to see his father blubbering. But he saw, and he knew.
We walked over tall grass and under brambled bushes. Deep breaths. Drink it in. Finally, when there was no more to see and no more to say, we walked by to the drive and piled into the car. As my wife and son got buckled and settled in, I went still.
“Just a minute,” I said, “I’ll be right back.” I climbed out the car and walked back to the gate.
“You done good, John Britt,” I whispered. “You made it to America and we’ve made it in America. You have a good, beautiful, and smart great-grandson who I know you would love. Thank you for your courage, we’ll always honour it with our own.”
After a minute, I wiped my eyes and cleared my throat and turned back to the present. I saw Aeron standing by the car, smiling at me. My son. The boy from Ballyfinnane.
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