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.
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.