When looking at all the options for your next vacation, why not go home for a week or two? No, I’m not talking about a staycation, but getting in touch with your ancestral homeland(s) by vacationing there.
Aside from First Nations peoples, the vast majority of Canadians are descended from those who came from someplace else. In my case, my mother’s side of the family is a mixture of French and German ancestry while the McGarry side is almost exclusively Irish, with a bit of Welsh and Scandinavian thrown in.
If you get to know me, you’ll quickly learn that not only do I enjoy travelling, but am particularly well versed in geography. I’ve put a few miles on my shoes over the past couple of decades. I’ve been to every province in Canada, a third of the United States, spent a year and a half teaching English in and touring around China, and even spent a week prior to the pandemic lazing around in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.
And while these trips were enriching, the part of me that always had a strong desire to visit the old country simply wouldn’t let up. So, last year, instead of booking a flight to a sunny destination, I headed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Emerald Isle.
After flying into Dublin, I took a shuttle downtown, amazed by what awaited me. In many respects, Dublin was a much older version of cities on the East Coast of Canada such as Halifax and St. John’s who over the centuries have retained much of their historic charm. Yet there was a distinctly European flavour to the capital of the Irish republic, which had become independent of Great Britain exactly one century earlier.
I spent a day walking around Dublin, visiting those classic Irish pubs and other cultural landmarks such as Christchurch Cathedral and Trinity College before joining my tour group for what would become the best vacation of my life.
This tour of Ireland was not only about seeing endless sights and attractions, but, more importantly, getting in touch with my ancestry. In 1841, my great-great-great grandfather, Terrance McGarry, who originally came from County Monaghan, sailed out of Liverpool, England with his young family bound for Pier 21 in Halifax and from there, the still mostly unsettled wilderness that comprised much of Prince Edward Island.
Ireland was an impoverished nation at the time and with the infamous Potato Famine about to begin, over one million Irish left for better lives and prospects in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, most of the 25 Canadians, Americans and Australians who I got to know on the tour were the descendants of those who had immigrated to those respective nations during the 1840s.
While we can’t go back and live in the past – and we’re all proud Canadians albeit of various descents - it’s important to become acquainted with our roots. While genealogy is a fantastic way of learning, to get that firsthand experience, it’s imperative to visit one of the countries you’re descended from in your lifetime.
Going home provides one with a better understanding of who they are and even what famous persons from history they could be related to.
Now, with the Irish experience under my belt, seeing France, Germany and even the United Kingdom is high on my list of travel priorities. While I barely speak a word of either French or German, I hope to have a strong sense of connection whenever I get around to visiting my mother’s side of the family.