Looking for home I came to Dunfanaghy and Horn Head on the north coast of Donegal in Ireland. My ancestors came from here.
On the way to Dunfanaghy we stopped at the Glebe Gallery and chanced on a meeting with a possible distant relative, one Jean Kearney descended from the Stuart family with Hays’ in her background. We spent a wonderful hour sharing good craic with Jean. She was a delight to meet and raised my spirits about coming home.
Once we arrived in Dunfanaghy it seemed immediately different from the rest of our Ireland experience.
Like the rest of Ireland it is beautiful. It has magnificent cliffs to rival the famous Cliffs of Moher. In fact, the cliffs of Horn Head and on nearby Tory Island are more enjoyable. They are wilder, less visited; you can walk out on them whenever you want and see very few other people. You can lose yourself in their magnificent wildness.
Still, there was something that unsettled me. I searched for words to describe it . . . remote came to mind but it is not quite right . . . there was an unformed feeling about the area but what does that mean?
Certainly it is not barren. There are flowers . . . wild flowers and heather and sandy beaches to enliven the landscape. And trees. Wonderful, glorious trees.
Is it that it is swept clean? In winter the winds blow fiercely. Horn Head is on the edge of the ocean, but there is not the proliferation of seabirds we found in Dublin and Glendalough and Kerry and Dingle and Sligo.
The sky broods here, as is does all over Ireland . . . marked by quicksilver changes . . . filtering the light through an ever changing cloudscape . . . yielding a luminous, uncertain glow . . . . beguiling your mind with it’s peculiar Irish charm.
I could not pinpoint why, but Dunfanaghy filled me with uncertainty.
Finally, going to the place that was likely the home of our family on Horn Head brought it all into focus. I was feeling desolate, not a part of this place, unwelcomed. Not only was this no longer home, it had never been home. My ancestors came looking for a place to be. In the end they left, looking for some place else to be.
I looked around, imagined my ancestors living there, and then leaving: I took in the trees, the woods that surrounded where they lived and was reminded of the woods that surrounded the land my grandparents built their home on in Pennsylvania. I imagined my ancestors clearing areas in these woods to grow food. Imagined them harvesting food, cutting peat, hunkering down for the long dark fierce winter days and welcoming the long light summer days; imagined them finally taking their last view of Muckish Mountain, that force of nature that dominates the landscape. And then they were gone.
What brought them to Dunfanaghy? They came from Scotland in 1610. Did they come with the Stuart lord who owned this land? That is likely. The Stuarts brought many families with them when they left Scotland for Ireland. But why did they all leave Scotland in the first place? And why did my Hays ancestors leave Dunfanaghy 200 years later? Many Scots came to Ireland over a number of centuries, often as soldiers. But my ancestors were farmers not soldiers.
My family and the Stuarts were Protestants. Perhaps they were outsiders in Scotland, and came to Horn Head seeking a remote place where they could find a measure of religious freedom. Horn Head was certainly remote.
Whatever their reasons for moving, first from Scotland, then from Ireland, I know that eventually they did not take a stand in either place. It’s easy to speculate that like others they left Ireland because of the potato famine. Walking the land where they lived I felt deeply that it wasn’t so. In the end this was not home for them and that is why they left.
A vivid memory of my own past has come to mind: living in Buffalo, New York, driving to work and each day passing the Interstate highway and longing to be on that road . . . to go I knew not where. And thinking again of my Grandparents home in Pennsylvania I am remined that none of our family lives there now. We are scattered in the wind.
Standing on the Stuart property on Horn Head I began to understand myself better. I had not come to a place where I could take my stand when I was in Buffalo. I was not home. Like the rest of my family in all places, I eventually took that road out of town and it seems I’ve been on the road in one way or another ever since.
I believe now that this searching is bred in the bone.
Tom Paxton’s ‘I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound.’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqpLqUIyK24&feature=related).