The old man next to me bought me another pint and mumbled enthusiastically but incoherently when I thanked him again. He had taught me a few Irish words when I first sat down and I wasn’t sure if after some whisky he was reverting back to his native tongue or if his accent had become too heavy to understand.
I was in Fieres, Ireland. It was an isolated, small town; just three pubs, one church and and a lot of farms. I walked and hitch-hiked the last four miles on narrow country roads. The pub was a twenty minute walk from Molahiffe, the cluster of farms I had identified as the birthplace of my great-grandfather and my surname.
When I walked in, around 12:30, there were just two elderly men at the bar. The man next to me grew very excited when I told him I was tracking down the geography of my family. Within a minute he was asking the other patron and bartender on my behalf if they knew anything about any Dennehy’s from Molahiffe and the conversation created its own momentum. I mostly just observed as farmers and other townfolk came in for a drink and joined the conversation. It was nominally about my surname but generally about tracing our blood and history and how Ireland has changed over the past century.
The bartender called her brother-in-law, a local history buff, another man left and returned with a historical pamphlet of the town which he gifted me, and everyone finally decided that I should find a fellow named Dick in the yellow house next to the burned-out barn. After we finished our last pints one of the men drove me to the yellow house—but while everyone knew Dennehy’s in other places no one knew any from Molahiffe, not even Dick.
I wasn’t really interested in meeting a distant cousin though; I just wanted to breathe the air of where I came from.