When the bus stopped outside the chapel on Bachelors Walk we paused to ‘pay a visit’, lighting a candle for blessings on us and our friends and families back in Aotearoa-New Zealand, the two entwined as always. A quick walk around the block and the sights and sounds of Dublin come tumbling back.
The tide was out on the Liffey, the thick lime green slime beckoning for a strong bleach! A young woman carrying a baby asks Jack for some euros and we crane necks peering up at our old shoe box apartment.
There’s time for a quick catch up with the ‘hags with the bags’ and we bustle alongside the lunch time walkers on the Ha’penny Bridge.
A loud ‘eruption’ of inimitable Dublin street shouting comes from three women and yer man ‘giving out’ to each other, while the banner on the Liffey River wall asks us a pertinent question, ‘What would you ask yourself?’.
I smile at the complexity and craic of Dublin, and love reliving it.
There are changes too – the roadworks and excavations we lived through have borne fruit and the Luas is working up and down Henry Street. The ‘Hop On – Hop Off’ buses are now bright green and the faces rushing past me represent multiple ethnicities.
As we wait to catch the bus to Sandymount I say out loud several times ‘I would so love to come back and live here!’ while whispering quickly to my children and grandchildren in case they are listening ‘but I probably won’t!’
Our bags were packed and waiting as we stood on the edge of Sunshine Bay at 3am on the first day of spring in Aotearoa – New Zealand. Stopping on the Gold Coast in Australia for two weeks on the way, means the canvas will change from blue to green when we arrive to an Irish autumn next Sunday.
I have found myself walking to Donegal several times in my life. The longest and most memorable walk was in 2001 with Jack and our daughter, Alice when we lived in Clachan Mor, Letterkenny for eight weeks. We were looking for work and while we waited for applications to be processed or overlooked, we explored Donegal. Our steps walked the hills of Donegal, including the top of Errigal. We have returned several times since, to places we love that have grown in significance for our Doherty family, and introduced them to our children, our nieces and our friends.
Inishowen holds the treasures we love – the ancient ring fort of Grianán of Aileach, the magnificent arched bridge over the River Crana that we walk across to the Doherty Keep, the winding road uphill to the Gap of Mamore, the stunning scenery of Malin head and the glimpses of the clan’s castle remnants at Inch, Greencastle, Burt and a family favourite, Carrickabraghy.
It’s December 2017 and Sarah and Jack have excitedly landed on ‘Walking to Donegal’ as the right name for this significant Doherty project.
I sat ready with a pen and paper and listened to these proud clan members share their dreams and realities about being Doherty, about why they needed to share this treasure and about who with. I remember thinking ‘these talkers need a writer, so it’s just as well I am here!’
I glanced at the headlines I had scribbled on my paper – goals, objectives, milestones, risks, communications – the why, what, who, and how of project management. However, their talk was typical Doherty speak. It was punctuated with frequent new ideas, loud hoots of laughter and words like ‘why not? who else? or what else?’ Their risk strategy included phrases like ‘ of course we can’ or the simple explanation that covered everything else:
‘ because we are Dohertys!’
I had heard the vision being espoused by Jack since his life-changing trip to Ireland in 1993 so I was more than familiar with the content and purpose. Our time in Ireland with Sarah in 2012 meant the two of them were now fully engaged so where they would land was wildly unpredictable.
On the same afternoon, thinking of other types of yarns in our lives, Sarah and I wondered about whether ‘Walking to Donegal’ could literally, as well as figuratively, become ‘weaving a Donegal tweed, stitching a finegarment in Donegal tartanor knitting a jersey in Doherty cables’
As the afternoon ended, a glass of wine was poured to toast the official ‘Walking to Donegal’ title. Jack knocked his glass over on the floor mat and grabbed a kitchen towel to march on and soak up the liquid. When we noticed the towel was a map of Ireland, we shrieked with laughter realising he was indeed ‘walking to Donegal’. It was a symbolic and memorable beginning.
I was born Joanne Mary McPadden, a kiwi with several Irish great grandparents. My ancestors left the Counties of Leitrim, Donegal and Clare and arrived in Aotearoa-New Zealand, settling on the West Coast of the South Island. Their Irish cultural, spiritual and historical influences linger for many generations.
I first lived in New Plymouth by Mt Taranaki, probably travelling on the same train as Jack to Stratford for the St Patrick’s Day athletics. But it was when I was sixteen and a student at St Mary’s College in Wellington that I first knew I was Irish. I read Leon Uris’ ‘Trinity’ and knew deep within that this was so.
Marrying this Doherty man, Jack, 45 years ago remains one of the best decisions of my life. We live and thrive in an ongoing adventure of five adult children, 12 grand children, wonderful families and friends and belonging to Te Wakaiti marae.
We shared Walking to Donegal after Jack’s first steps there. Being alongside him for the multiple steps since, and those about to be taken, is symbolic of our rich life together.
Being from Aotearoa-New Zealand provides me with a unique Pacific and cultural view of this walk to Donegal. Working and living with Māori who are steeped in their culture and know their whakapapa or clan genealogy, has led me to discover my own identity and going ‘home’ to Ireland has enormous momentum because I live here.
I have been known affectionately as Jewarne since writing about living in Donegal and Dublin, in ‘Mind y’self now, Jewarne’, published in 2005. My reflections about this particular Walking to Donegal experience in 2018 will be recorded as Jewarne.