Friday, September 19, 2014

Then Versus Now

Two weeks from today, we will be in the town of Ballina—Ballina in County Tipperary, that is. With a population just under 2,500 people, it’s understandable why the other Ballina keeps popping up on search results. In comparison, Tipperary’s Ballina is a mere village.

Searching for a place to stay in a location that small would seem to be a challenge. After all, if you were coming to visit my neck of the woods, you would be considering a town somewhere between the size of Linden and Weaverville. Neither of those locations would be places where I’d expect to find both an abundance of Bed and Breakfast accommodations and hotels from which to choose. Thus you see the dilemma I was expecting to face.

When I actually began to delve into my housing search in earnest, I was pleasantly surprised—although, alas, no castles—to find a number of Bed and Breakfast options. Somehow, that seemed like an option that would bring us closer to the land. (Or whatever romantic notion you’d like to substitute as an excuse.)

Getting closer to the land seems to be the goal, here, when it comes to venturing this far north of our Dublin-to-Cork itinerary. After all, the rest of our journey isn’t far removed from those two anchors: just a little bit to the west to County Kerry, and a little to the north to just over the County Cork line in the eastern portion of County Limerick. Somehow, this County Tipperary excursion seems to be an outlier.

But Ballina is the firmest fact I’ve found for the home base of any of our Irish ancestors. I have two Tully baptismal verifications pointing back to Ballina. And an entry in Griffith’s Valuation.

As I look for anything that can be found on the actual townland of our Tully family’s former residence—as well as the site of the original Catholic parish—it becomes quite easy to absorb all extraneous information. Inspired by Iggy’s prompt to discover the actual population of Ballina, I couldn’t help notice all the other details that came up in searches on the town. I’ve taken to reading the community page of the local newspaper, the Tipperary Star, after having stumbled upon it during a search juxtaposing the words “Tully” and “Ballina.” Thanks to seeking out population numbers, I discovered quite a collection of disparate facts about the place, like the fact that there is a greater proportion of professional and managerial workers than the national average, or the detail about the large number of Polish nationals living in Ballina

Apparently, there were enough of such interesting trivia to rank Ballina, a few years back, as the third best place to live in Ireland. (The other Ballina, by way of contrast, made it into the same list as the nineteenth worst place to live.) Their own promotions certainly rank the town as “amongst Ireland’s most picturesque attractions.”

Coming away from such glowing copy, I feel as if our destination would be perfect for the chic weekend getaway. And yet, this is the same turf upon which our ancestors once felt so hopelessly despondent about their future as to risk it all for a perilous and uncertain journey in despicable conditions. I get the feeling that our Tully and Flannery ancestors would not fit in well with the preponderance of well-educated professional and managerial Ballina commuters braving their daily thirty minute drive to their well-respected positions in the nearby urban centers of modern Ireland.

After all, our ancestors last walked on that turf almost one hundred seventy years ago. A lot can change in a span of time that size. Yet, for us to journey back to that same location means for us to carry them in our hearts as we go. Having traced their family’s story back, step by step through each decade, to arrive at that point at the beginning of the Great Hunger aligns me more with mindset of their departure than the viewpoint held by the town's current residents. How strange it will seem to be leisurely chatting over a meal at a tony café by the very streets these destitute ancestors may once have passed on their way out of town for the last time.

Above: "On the Quays," 1888 charcoal on canvas by Irish artist, Frank O'Meara; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. A lot has changed since then - 150+ years is a lot.

    I can still hear my Grandfather saying, "Boy! I didn't recognize this place!!" when he returned to a town in the US for the first time in (only) 20 years!

    1. Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel when I visit my hometown, too. Seems like nothing stays the same. But usually the spirit of the town seems to remain, even though the buildings--or even the streets--change. Seems like Ballina's had a total make-over.

  2. The lifespan of a town is often as interesting as the life of an ancestor.

    1. Well put, Wendy. And the town is the aggregate of such ancestors. Boggles my mind to get so philosophical.

  3. Just let the surroundings tell their tale, after all if your relatives had stayed they probably would have died. Two weeks...the time is flying by...make your packing list! :)

  4. I had a friend tell me just the other day that just being there and feeling the essence of it all.....knowing they had been there was almost reward enough for her trip to England. You do such a beautiful job helping us to travel back in time with you, I really look forward to the upcoming blogs about it all. I know a lot has changed, but hopefully there will be plenty of remnants of times past as well.


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