In 2010 my uncle Jack and I were having lunch in the sun on the Nelson waterfront. My parents had not long died and Jack had been abruptly and prematurely thrust into the role of kaumātua (elder male) in our family. I asked Jack to take me to Ireland and show me where I come from; in 2012 we took that trip together with Jack’s wife, and my aunty, Joanne.
Only it wasn’t really a trip. It was a Pilgrimage to the Homeland.
I was so curious to know what was it like there? Which direction did the wind come from? What did the earth smell like in my hands? Where did the moon rise? Where were my maunga (mountain) and my awa (river)? What would it feel like?
I was born the third of four little blonde girls. I grew up in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s – a seminal period in the history of New Zealand. Car-less days, Spring Bok Tour, Nuclear Free NZ, Rogernomics, Homosexual Law Reform, Mother-of-all-Budgets. Politics were always part of any family gathering. My world view was formed through Catholic social teaching and I loved our school and parish and the sense of connection and belonging in our community.
I also had some sense of being ‘other’ – we were the kids that wore a uniform to school. We were picked on by the bullies on the corner; my mother’s mother armed us with taunts of our own and sent us out to stand up for ourselves and our Catholic heritage.
It was heritage, it still is heritage. Much more than religion or mass-going.
My first recollection of being Irish was around age 10 or so. I remember Dad and Jack telling us we were descended from High Kings of Ireland. Kind of an over-reach but I loved feeling royal and noble and it helped make sense of the very high standards of integrity and behaviour that we were raised with.
In 1988, as a young woman, I had my first encounter with not being ‘of this land’. I was at a large gathering for a few days, “Hui Whanau”, where we were exploring biculturalism and the pākehā (European New Zealander) response to tangata whenua (indigenous Māori) with the approaching 150-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. I recall a confusing sense of being a refugee. I became very curious to understand, if I’m not indigenous here in New Zealand then where am I from? Where on Earth was I from? The land I was from.
At about this time I began to identify strongly as Irish Catholic. This is very different than being Roman Catholic and is as much a statement of ethnic identity as it is of religion, or spirituality.
There are lots of cultural similarities between tangata whenua (the Māori people in Aotearoa-New Zealand) and Ngāti Irish (ngāti is the prefix for a tribal group). I noticed more and more resonance with Māori culture as I began working in the community sector, in Education and ultimately in Government.
Māori people whakapapa (recite genealogy) back to a mountain and a river, always they identify to their place, the land, the whenua.
Increasingly I needed to know the mountain and the river.
When I got to Donegal I can’t explain how “at home” I felt. I can only say it was a DNA thing.
The deepest feeling in me was that I made sense. In Donegal I don’t laugh too loud, my temper is not too fiery, I am not too emotional or too philosophical, my skin is not too sun-sensitive. In Donegal I am not too much. Loving the wind and stones, needing privacy and connection at the same time, my deep love for family, for clann. In Donegal I make sense to me.
During that first visit I made sense to me in a most profound way that will never leave me.
In 2012 I had the amazing privilege of travelling with Jack, our Chief Storyteller. I began to think of my sons and nephews and cousins, the young ones and the ones yet to be born. I want them to feel that sense of belonging, identity, connection, sense making.
I see the cost when people are adrift to themselves. This sense-making is about coming home to self.
We are Clann O’Dochartaigh and we are Walking to Donegal.
Now when I introduce myself I say:
Kō Slieve Snaght tōku maunga
(Slieve Snaght is my mountain)
Kō Crana tōku awa
(Crana is my river)
Nō te rohe o Inishowen ahau
(I am from the place of Inishowen)
Kō Clann O’Dochartaigh nō Arihi tōku Iwi
(The O’Dochartaigh Clann from Ireland are my people)
Kō Jennifer Hatchard me Paul Doherty tōku mātua
(Jennifer Hatchard and Paul Doherty are my parents)
Kō Sarah Doherty ahau
(I am Sarah Doherty)