Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slow Versus Slower


It's been a long and delightful three weeks we've spent in Ireland—my husband and I, joined later by his two sisters, as we spent time with our daughter, the college student in Cork, and then the full week of genealogical research on our eight Irish family lines—but nevertheless, it's good to be back home.

After an experience like that, I can't help but reflect on what went well about this time away from home, and what turned out to be less than exemplary progress.

In the main, I can safely say as researchers, we've been spoiled by the digitization of records. Say what you may about resources like Ancestry.com or even the freely-accessible treasure chest of documents at FamilySearch.org, you can't beat accessing the very record you are seeking with one click of a "Search" button.

Yes, I know, even so, online research may entail the tedium of going through countless records of people with the same "John Kelly" name and date of birth. That can certainly slow down your progress. But just try your hand at slogging through the faded chicken scratch of an overworked Catholic parish priest serving in the western hinterlands of Ireland just after the rough pre-emancipation years, and you will be quickly disabused of your tendency to label online research "slow."

While some aspects of research progress can't be helped—how am I to know, for instance, whether a specific ancestor will be included in parish record microfilms at the point where I expect him to appear?—I've had some thoughts on how I might approach such a research trip on a second attempt.

First, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about what isn't there, so cut those losses and move on. It was so frustrating to finally get to the County Limerick film roll for the Catholic parish of our Flanagan and Malloy ancestors, set it up in the reader, crank forward to the label listing the entries included, and realize that not only the marriage record for Stephen Malloy and Anna Flanagan fell into the date gaps, but also the baptismal record of their only child's birth. Sometimes, there are ways to access, ahead of time, whether specific dates have been lost from records now available; sometimes not. Some records, by time of filming, were so fragile as to have been unreadable; some records were lost or misplaced. Though some are later recovered and added to collections, that will not always be the case.

I learned to substitute for the disappointment of such findings the more flexible question, "So, what's next?" At least in our case, I had seven more lines to follow up on while we were here.

Once we had bought our airline tickets, I had had a moment of regret, thinking perhaps it would have been better to do the paperwork before embarking on the fieldwork of driving to the sites of our ancestral homes. What if I discovered something which would alter the course of our tour through the countryside of Ireland?

In retrospect, though, I found the hands-on experience up front became a finding aid for me. As I progressed through microfilms of sometimes jumbled collections—jumping from dates, mentions of townlands, parishes, and sacraments of baptism alternating to marriages—I could get my bearings as I remembered the names of neighboring church parishes or townlands. Remembering the names of the areas we had driven through helped orient me to which sections of microfilms were more pertinent to our family's records. And, as it turned out, with the one exception of the Flanagans showing in a neighboring townland to the one I had originally anticipated them to live, I didn't unearth any startling discoveries that would inhibit my research progress. Neither, however, did I uncover any of the earth-shaking revelations I had hoped for.

The pace of research, in the main, was as slow as the rhythm of the passing pages as my microfilm reel cranked forward. The more faint the images—or more illegible—the slower my progress.

The others in my research group seemed to have similar experiences. I don't recall anyone sharing a "Eureka!" moment. Finding verification for already-held hunches seemed to be the best-hoped-for outcome. There is a lot of "cranking out" and not as much crashing through those brick walls. The speed of discovery can be astoundingly glacial.

Still, there is no replacing such an experience. I was glad we were able to take the extra two weeks to see the specific places where our ancestors originated. This we could not have done without the prior legwork of finding records before even stepping out our door and heading on our way to Ireland. Ironically, it seemed I found more about these Irish ancestors through the records I located in the United States, than through the records found once we arrived in Dublin.

On the other hand, if we had not made the effort to travel to Ireland, we would never have experienced the remoteness of the townlands, the quality of the land from which our ancestors attempted to extract their livelihood, or the layout of the nearby villages where they came to trade or socialize.

It was a worthwhile experience to see what Irish genealogical researchers are up against, with many of their records—documents such as the types we have come to take for granted in the United States—no longer in existence, owing to wars or other upheavals. It was informative, as well, to see the ingenuity applied to the task of research in developing ways to work around these unfortunate losses. In the process, not only did I learn new research resources and techniques, but had my eyes opened to the need for flexibility and creativity in the face of insurmountable roadblocks to research progress.



Photograph: View, looking south, from the road near the cemetery at the Cathedral ruins at Aghadoe in County Kerry. Somewhere near here was the townland where our Kelly and Falvey families originated. Photograph courtesy of Chris Stevens.




Monday, October 20, 2014

Working Around the System


I close my eyes and can still see the calligraphic lines of Father James Flanagan's hand rhythmically unfolding across the pages of the Ballyagran parish register. Those dark images of the 1830s are still imprinted on my mind. I will likely carry their memory with me on my journey back across the Atlantic—but clutch my files in safekeeping in my carry-on bags, just in case.

This research trip to Ireland, home of my Irish-American father-in-law's eight great-grandparents, has given me three weeks of material to mull over. There have been moments to ponder. Moments in which time stood still as I sensed intangible connections. And long stretches of time, seeking the unfindable.

Researching outside one's own country brings a person face-to-face with one's own assumptions. And those assumptions often crumble in the face of reality. What we take for granted through our experience, researching at home, will not always be the same system we encounter abroad. While Americans traipse merrily along the unwinding trail from the 1940 census backwards through the decades at home, their immigrant ancestors left behind governments which might not even be in existence now.

"Frame of reference" has become a buzzword for this month's research experience. In the States, we expect our government to collect certain types of information, and learn how to extract from those documents what is useful for our genealogical pursuits. We expect to cross-apply that assumption to the governments of our ancestors. This does not always hold true. Other governments—indeed, other organizations in general—collect vastly different types of information based on what suits their purposes. I spent the greater part of this last week, essentially conducting the equivalent of what, in America, might be looking at rent rolls of apartment managers—all in the interest of finding some clue as to the whereabouts of my husband's ancestors.

If documents are basically collections of what "We the People" deem important for our government to record and store, they become a window through which others may glean hints of what we count as important. As much as Americans see themselves as being from a "young" country—after all, empires like those of the British and even more so the Chinese, vastly outclass our history—as American genealogists, we blithely flip through the pages of our decennial census records in one form or another, (with only one hiccup), back through 1790. Yet from where I have traveled this month, I could photograph the ruins of an Irish monastery or castle dating from years labeled with only three digits, yet drive less than an hour to access census records that can't reach beyond 1901.

For those of Irish Catholic heritage, this could mean struggling with the researcher's brick wall as recently as the late 1820s. An Irish immigrant willing to brave the unknown to cross the sea to a New World in the 1600s would have had a better chance of being discovered by a descendant in American documents than would his siblings who remained behind in their homeland.

I learned, in this past week, to adopt a "systems" frame of reference in assessing my progress in research here in Ireland. We as researchers will only be able to access what has been left behind by a country's collective determination of what is of value to them. The systems each country has developed, over the decades—and even centuries—leave behind records which may be of value to us in tracing our roots. The key is to determine which system has collected the names, dates and identities which provide the clues we seek. While every system of collective activity will accumulate paper trails, we can never assume the systems we've come to take for granted in our own country will be the same ones valued—or even practiced—in another country.



 



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Last Day in Dublin


Friday was our last full day of research here in Dublin. After wrapping up my project examining County Kerry tax records at the Valuation office, I met my husband for dinner—he had just spent the entire day on a trip to Newgrange—and then we retired to our hotel room. There, I took the time to gather my thoughts on the day's progress and prepare the next day's blog post. Inevitably, after answering email, following online links and organizing notes for the next morning's blitz through my last microfilm roll, the evening was spent. The time was nearing one in the morning.

Shutting everything down for the night, we unplugged the laptop and set the iPad and phone up to charge. Just as we turned out the lights, there was an unusual sound from the electronic devices, so my husband went to check everything out. Apparently, the noise was to alert us that the devices were no longer charging. As he unplugged and then re-inserted the converter into the outlet, something in the wall popped—sounded like a small explosion to me—and there was the smell of something burning.

I screamed—not a wise move for that time of night. But hey. Every research trip needs a little excitement.

On Saturday, I had just three hours to crank through an entire decade of Catholic baptism records from the 1830s. It didn't help that the day started out with glorious sunshine. It's been culture shock for this California resident to spend so many hours under cloud cover. I hadn't realized how much my subconscious registered this deprivation until I actually saw real sunlight on Saturday.

Not to worry. I powered on. Fifteen minutes before closing, I realized I had only made it to 1834 in the County Tipperary parish—I had started at 1832—and if I were going to capture a copy of our John Tully's baptismal entry, I had better fast-forward to the appropriate spot and grab my opportunity now.

I do have to say, the journey through that Ballina parish register was informative. My hope had been to connect the dots between any Flannerys and Tullys in the area and our own Margaret Flannery and Denis Tully.

If you recall my consternation over the ink blot unserendipitously deposited upon the precise spot on the page of the 1851 Canada West census which contained relatives of our Flannery line, you will be happy to note that the name was Edmund Flannery after all. I came upon his son Cornelius' baptismal entry Saturday morning.

I'd like to say I hated leaving the rest of that microfilm roll behind at the sound of the closing bell, but I really can't say that. There was, after all, sunlight awaiting my emergence from the rotunda of the National Library. I joined my husband who, along with what seemed to be the entire residency of the city of Dublin, was out enjoying this novelty called sunshine. We walked along, taking in the sights of the city in which I had spent the last week sequestered indoors.

The afternoon presented a bonus, in that our research trip was deftly designed to coincide with Dublin's Back to Our Past conference. The DNA lectures there included a keynote presentation by Spencer Wells of National Geographic's Genographic Project. Being so far from home, I found it a treat to run into the familiar face of Katherine Borges of ISOGG, and even Maurice Gleeson, whom I had met and discussed this trip with, back at the Southern California Jamboree last June.

On today's agenda is nothing but time to enjoy the sights of Dublin and relax. Then pack. Tonight—if all goes as planned—we will be joined by our daughter, who once again will take the train from Cork to spend this last evening with us. Early tomorrow morning, we'll be off to the airport and the long trip back home.

 

Photograph: Looking into the ruins of the Aghadoe Cathedral in County Kerry from an outside wall of the building. Photograph courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Race to Finish


Today is the last day I'll be able to do any genealogical research in Ireland. We leave here Monday morning.

When that thought sank in yesterday, I was torn between completing two tasks: finish slogging through the microfilm of Tully family possibilities in County Tipperary, or try my hand again at property records.

If you think looking at property records for genealogical research hints at the possibility of landed gentry for our family, think again. It took passage of legislation before any possible other descendants of our Irish ancestors were able to buy a chip off the old block of estate property. It is, however, one way to detour ye olde brick wall and discover possible distant cousins in the process.

The drawback to this alternate research plan entailed a long walk through the rain to the Valuation Office. Again. I had done this very process the other day—that time, seeking Flanagans in County Limerick—but I thought it might be worth my while to attempt the same technique on my Kelly and Falvey families in County Kerry.

Of all our eight lines of Irish ancestors, the County Kerry couple had been the last to leave Ireland, so I hoped there might be more recent records with additional detail to help push back another generation. The trouble was, as everyone realizes, Kelly is a common surname in Ireland, making differentiations a challenge. Plus, the few birth records I've been able to find hint at either a family that moved from place to place—or couples with the exact same names.

The marriage record I had found showed John Kelly to be from Knockauncore, a townland in the parish of Kilcummin—one of the microfilms still awaiting my return to the National Library. Checking Griffith's Valuation, I noticed there happened to be two women renting property in the 1850s who might be of interest: Anne Falvey and Mary Kelly. What would be the chances that they were related to our soon-to-be-married Johanna Falvey and John Kelly from that very same townland?

The virtue of checking the subsequent valuation records is that a researcher may then trace the changing of hands from one renter to another, pinpointed to within at least two years range. The changes are marked directly into the valuation records, color coded as to year in which the change was noted. Our research guide, Donna Moughty, explained this in her blog the other day.

In my case the other day, I (hopefully) found our family's renegade William Flanagan in the primary valuation in 1853. At the Valuation Office the other day, I had continued the chase with the book that began in 1855. The same property number—7f in the townland of Cappananty—now showed under the name Catherine Flanagan. William was gone, presumably either serving his sentence in a jail in Ireland, or on his way to Australia.



Catherine Flanagan continued as the entry at that 7f property designation for a number of years, but eventually, her name was lined out in red ink in the book dated 1866. Above her name was inserted the name James Flanagan, and in the right margin in the same corresponding red ink, the date was noted as "68."



Presumably, at that point, either Catherine died, or was no longer able to maintain her position as the responsible taxpayer for the property. Again—we can only presume here—James Flanagan could have been a relative of hers, taking over responsibility for the property of his mother or sister.

I followed the books through the years of cancellations—each volume containing multiple color-coded revisions until anywhere from two to several years later, a new volume was issued—to trace tenancy of that same "7f" property.



I witnessed the stamp in 1906 indicating that James Flanagan was finally able to purchase the land upon which he had lived all these years. And I noted the green entry dated 1939 which indicated the property was in probate—James had likely died. A final entry in red ink in 1941 noted, "in ruins," and the valuation adjusted to reflect the value of property only.

Encouraged by those findings, yesterday I had hoped to do the same for my Kelly and Falvey families in County Kerry. Genealogical lightning, however, seldom strikes twice. While Anne Falvey and Mary Kelly remained neighbors only a few doors down from each other—well, at least until Mary's name is replaced by Catherine Ryan, and then Timothy Connor in quick succession in 1863 and 1864—there was precious little about the succession of property tenants to reveal any possible relatives' names. The only change—a brief one—lined out Anne Falvey in 1899, and replaced her with the name Mary Falvey. Mary's name was removed, lined out in blue ink with a comment inserted, "1907 ruin."

Could Mary Falvey be related to Anne Falvey? Could Anne from County Kerry be part of our Falvey line? What about the property in County Limerick that passed from William to Catherine to James Flanagan?

I have so many pages of notes compiled from this week's work. When I get home, I'll need to sort through it all and see if there are any trends—or at least possibilities—hiding within these records. For now, though, I have only this morning between 9:30 and 12:45 to wrap up my work in the National Library. How quickly that time will disappear!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Awe-Inspiring Moments of Research


I miss my genealogy society buddies. We all understand the need to share what we find in our research projects. Some things are just not meant to be experienced alone.

Take yesterday's episode at the National Library of Ireland. I had decided to continue slogging through those unreadable microfilm records from the Catholic Church parishes of County Limerick (for our Flanagans and Malloys) and County Tipperary (for our Tullys and Flannerys). After a late and leisurely breakfast—with three weeks of sleep deprivation catching up to me, believe me, I needed a break—I took the morning to finish up the parish Ballyagran records.

Nothing.

I drowned my disappointment in a small cup of mocha at a noisy coffee shop over an art gallery near Kildare Street, then came back to the library for more drudgery. You may think I am a glutton for punishment, but at this point, I only wanted to say I had finished a microfilm roll.

My final task for the day was to pick up where I had left off on the parish records for Ballina in County Tipperary. Granted, anything I could find there would not add much to what I already knew. Thanks to overzealous relatives of the past few generations who saved everything, I had already unearthed a letter from a parish priest, who several years after the fact had provided written verification of baptism for my husband's great-grandfather. But I still wanted to see it in the original record.

The microfilm I had been working with, as I mentioned to you before, was in horrible shape. Not only were the original records apparently greatly faded, but the film itself was scratched from repeated wear. Then, too, the priest's handwriting had been a particular challenge for my eyes. Not to mention, the film itself was torn, both at the beginning of the reel, and then at the middle, where the strand was broken in half.

Sidestepping all those hazards, I proceeded beyond the place where I had left off the other day. Discovery number one was the relief upon realizing that part of the reading difficulty was due to an ineffective machine—I wanted to cheer on account of the brighter readout, but there seemed to be a no-talking policy in place, so I minded my manners.

I keep rolling past my starting place, watching the dates slip away from my target--marriages moving into the 1860s, then 1870s, much too late for the generation I was seeking. I was sure this would be another empty attempt.

And then, without warning, the next page on the microfilm not only switched abruptly from marriages to baptisms, but skipped from February, 1872, back to March, 1832. The quality of the film changed, as well. While complete pages—admittedly filled with chicken scratch, but at least completely present on the readout—had been the fare for the rest of the film, suddenly the images were of smaller, darker pages with all the edges crumbled, torn or worn away. The left margin, where a date and first name of the baby should have appeared, there was nothing. The paper was gone.

I tried to read through the records anyway. Despite the increasing difficulty in deciphering the names listed, not far from the top of the page, I thought I made out the words, Denis Tully and Margaret "Flannary." Was this our Tully line? Sure enough, the next line provided enough for me to see "--ke tully and Kitty Flannary."


I already had a baptismal note like that—it was for the Ryan family branch of our Tully family, which started with Johanna Tully, our John's older sister. Still, I was overwhelmed with this sudden sense of awe. Even though I was looking at a microfilm of the original document, I had this instant feeling of connection with the past—our family's specific past.

I wanted to tell someone. I looked at the woman sitting next to me. Someone whom I hadn't met, she was engrossed in the struggle of making her way through her own illegible assignment. I looked around the room, but there wasn't even anyone from our own research group with whom to share my small victory. All I could do was sit there, sigh heavily, and consider how incredible it was to have even this small connection with someone who was once part of the family I know now.

Wishing I could memorialize the experience—I know; I was desperate for some way to share it—I grabbed my pencil and wrote the date and time in my notebook. It was 4:23 p.m. on October 16.

Perhaps a sniffle alerted my desk-mate to look up. Glancing at me with an inquiring look, she gave me all the opening I needed, and I told her what I found. We exchanged war stories and complaints about horrid microfilm samples, and then she packed up and called it quits for the day.

I had just a few minutes more to work before closing—just enough time, in fact, to discover one more hint about the other John Tully I keep finding in family records—before staff came in to unceremoniously announce that the library was closing in fifteen minutes and everyone needed to leave. Now.

I didn't get much more done on that microfilm yesterday, but that's okay. I still have today--and even Saturday morning, if necessary. But some things you can't just rush. When you can't find anything, it can be a drag. Our tendency is to hurry past those moments.

But when you find something, you can't just soldier on. Those are the moments when you absolutely need to stop and savor the victory—to let the reality of the realization wash over you. The stark recognition of what these discoveries mean can stop you in your tracks.

These are the moments we are in a hurry to find. But when we find them, all Time seems to stand still. In that timeless moment, what we find is meant to be shared.

  

Photograph: The close-up, above, of the 1832 baptism of an unnamed child of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully of the Catholic parish of Ballina in County Tipperary is followed, below, by the picture of the microfilmed page from which it was extracted.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Walking the Rainy Streets of Dublin


If archaeology students in Europe can suffer from castle fatigue, can genealogy researchers succumb to foreign government repository fatigue?

So far, our group of researchers has stuck our collective noses in books at the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives, and the Valuation Office—not to mention the many microfilms and other forms preserving decades-old documentation.

I've currently been working on some hunches about sidestepping my Flanagan and Malloy brick wall in County Limerick. You may remember that my husband's great-great-grandmother, Anna Flanagan Malloy, had received that fateful letter from her husband in 1849, announcing his hasty departure from Liverpool—however he had ended up there from their home near Ballyagran in County Limerick—to Boston. Meanwhile, Anna's brother, William Flanagan, had gotten himself arrested in Cork and sentenced to transportation to Australia. At that time, Anna herself was mother of a young daughter, Catherine.

After I attended the orientation session at the National Archives, I had learned about the Petitions files—requests for clemency, which often had sob stories included in the official files, complete with details of family names and conditions. I thought perhaps that might be a way to figure out what had become of Anna's brother William. After all, both siblings—plus Anna's daughter—had found their way to Chicago before the time of the 1860 census, so something might have been changed on William's sentence.

The verdict on that hunch turned out to yield nothing. If the William showing in the Archives' database were indeed our William, it appears his sentence was cut short, but more likely that decision was on account of administrative convenience, not governmental mercy. According to one knowledgeable archivist on staff there, the British reliance on transportation sentences to rid the island of troublemakers was getting the chill from protesting Australian colonists, who didn't appreciate their land serving as dumping ground for undesirables. Understandably.

So what might William have done, if his sentence was shortened? Perhaps that was his cue to get out of town and head for America.

One way to check—albeit an indirect way—was to trace the property records for the one William Flanagan that showed up in the Griffith's Valuation in his native County Limerick. While there are a number of ways to see that, using online resources, what I can do, now that I'm here in Dublin, is walk to the Valuation Office and follow the property tax records forward, through the years, all the way up to the 1970s. That way, I can see if the plot of land where William once lived remained in his name, or if there were any notations revealing when he may have moved away. Further, once he left the property, if another Flanagan assumed responsibility for the land, I can draw up a paper trail of family members, which can then provide clues for other research efforts.

The process was successful, at least in the case of this Flanagan plot. While William showed as the taxpayer for the date in which the original Griffith's Valuation was conducted for County Limerick, the very next record book, dated 1855, showed that property under the name Catherine Flanagan. Catherine's name remained on the tax rolls in the townland of Cappananty until 1866. By then, a James Flanagan, who had been showing on property in the nearby townland of Cappanihane, had his name lined out in 1868, and instead inserted in Catherine's plot.

Whoever Catherine was, at this point, I can only hope she was somehow related to our William and Anna. I have no way of confirming that yet. Of course, knowing that Anna named her firstborn daughter Catherine—presumably following Irish naming patterns of the time, after the name of the child's maternal grandmother—gives a slight glimmer of hope.

With the older Catherine's name being removed from the tax rolls in 1868, the conjecture is that the woman had passed away that year—or at least no longer was able to bear the burden of responsibility for payment of property taxes. With the arrival of James at that address, we might presume that he was somehow related to her—but we still can't be sure.

James Flanagan remained at that same property—once the home of William Flanagan, then Catherine Flanagan—until 1939. Somewhere along the way, thanks to legislation changes, he was able to purchase his property. Notations in the margins dated 1939 indicate that the property was then in a form of probate, providing an approximate date for James' passing.

Was James son of Catherine? Brother of William and Ann? Hard to tell at this point. Catherine's passing occurred after the institution of civil registrations, so there would have been a death certificate, but at that point, it would have provided little information other than to certify that, yes, she was dead. James' more recent date of passing would mean his record would include more detail—but whether that detail would reach back far enough to help me glean his parents' names and origins, I'm not yet sure. To determine that, incidentally, would entail a visit to a different governmental office.

Having had such a clear line traced for this Flanagan property—hopefully our Flanagans—I was encouraged to try the Tully and Flannery records in County Tipperary. After all, I knew exactly where they had originated. But unfortunately, every last Tully I had found in the original Griffith's Valuation had left without a trace before the books resumed in 1855.

By this time in the afternoon, all but one of our group had left the Valuation Office. We were all mostly on our own to find our way back to our hotel, or to return to the other repositories we had already visited.

One glimpse outside the office window told me the weather was turning nasty. I decided to head for the library while I could, but the wind whipped up and nearly collapsed my umbrella on my walk back across the Liffey, so I pulled into a Costa's coffee shop—there were precious few Starbucks or Peets Coffee shops to be found over here, and even the Irish rage, the Insomnia Coffee establishment, was nowhere in sight. I settled in to wait out the storm with a small mocha and a wifi connection—thankfully not yet having caved to the obligatory post-storm downing of service—and pulled up a map to re-orient myself to this maze leading to the government offices scattered about the city. Just as we had experienced with those castles and ruins, I was beginning to feel that dazed sense settle upon me, thinking, if I've seen one, I've seen them all.


Photograph: Line 7f shows the entry for Catherine Flanagan, renting property in 1855 from one John O'Brien in the townlands of Cappananty in County Limerick.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Luck, Guardian Angels and the Irish


I was reminded, by a comment from Far Side on Monday's post, that I hadn't finished my saga of the upset that greeted us upon our arrival in Ireland. Since then, I've had half a month to see things change in my favor considerably.

Along with a huge adrenaline rush, a lot of serious prayer went into the hours following my discovery that I had left my iPad in the taxi the very first day we were here. What were the chances that I'd see it again? After all, if I had left it anywhere in New York or Chicago or...well, name any U.S. city, and you can imagine what the outcome would be.

Here in Cork, Ireland? I couldn't really be sure. After all, depending on whom we told about the issue, we'd either get a long face and sad story about how crime is bad in the cities, or an encouraging pep talk. When we called the Garda to see what protocol was in the city of Cork, the sergeant's first words were an immediate and brisk, "Oh, please, God!" That, we later found out, was a common saying around there, not an editorial comment on my chances for recovery.

It wasn't until just before we left for tiny Ballina in northern County Tipperary that I opened my email to find the very note I was hoping for, but thought I'd never see:
I found what I presume is your iPad when I was getting out of a taxi last night in Cork. Not knowing where you are staying I took it with me to Dublin.
Though I was overjoyed—the device had every detail loaded onto it that I would need for my research trip later on in Dublin—I was instantly plagued with doubts. What if this person was from Cork, but wouldn't return until after we left for Dublin? What if she was from Dublin, and wasn't going to return to Cork at all? What if she was headed to Dublin to leave on an international flight? By the time I saw her email, my iPad could have been halfway around the world!

I was so thankful we had a second computer with us on this trip, or I would never have received the good news until our return to the States. I sent my new-found Irish guardian angel a return reply, providing my husband's local cell phone number, as well as confirming she had deduced the correct email address.

And waited.

Just as this mystery person had likely wondered about my slow reply, our roles were now reversed, and I was the one to wait. Being, by now, in Ballina without any online service—an unexpected glitch owing to some severe rainstorms which had somehow affected the local Internet connectivity—I was doubly glad to have already sent a return email which included a phone number.

Two days later, the awaited call came in. Life can be busy and complicated for guardian angels, as well.

This one, thankfully, was quite willing to go through the trouble of shipping my iPad to my daughter's address in Cork. We thanked her profusely, knowing the expense that would entail.

Not long afterwards, the package arrived, as planned. While the iPad made the journey in perfect order, there was, however, one glitch which I have yet to figure out: the return address given on the package, as well as the note inserted within, gave a different name than that provided in the original email. Which leaves me with a quandary: whom to reimburse for the expense? There is no way to write out a check, not knowing the exact name of my helper-in-disguise. Nor could I, not having an Irish bank account.

There are always stories of the hero who steps in, unexpectedly, to save the day—and then disappears before anyone even realizes that thanks are in order. My mystery person is much like that kind of hero. She has certainly saved the day for me—I am now happily researching away at the various national repositories in Dublin, aided by the use of my iPad, as anticipated. The only thing missing for this hero is the hero's welcome which she so richly deserves.




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