Jack Rooney | February 15, 2018
The winter wind on Achill Island began to carry a soft Irish rain, so we ducked inside the nearest church.
The weathered stone building was cool, but dry, and that special kind of quiet I’ve only ever found in empty churches. The tall arched windows let in a gentle gray light, and we spoke in hushed voices even though we were the only ones there.
“Wow,” my mom said quietly, almost to herself, as she wandered up and down the aisles. “Just think, Great-Grandma could have gone to Mass here.”
She probably didn’t. But she could have, and that’s what mattered.
My mom had a lot of those moments on our family trip to Ireland. She, along with my two brothers and my girlfriend, Caroline, had come to visit me just after Christmas 2016. We rented a car in Dublin and drove out to County Mayo on the west coast, the ancestral home for my mom’s side of the family. Her grandmother, Margaret Clarke, grew up on Achill Island in the late 19th and early 20th century, before immigrating to the United States in 1909.
As often happens on the west coast of Ireland, the rain passed after a few minutes, and we strolled back outside and across the street, to the shore of a small inlet that separates Achill from the mainland. Aside from a few road signs — and the paved road itself — the moment felt pleasantly untouched by time, the same way a lot of Ireland still feels. A few cottages dotted the grassy horizon and a lone hill stretched into the low-hanging clouds, but nothing looked like it couldn’t have been there a hundred years ago.