It wasn’t what I expected at all. So far north, almost like driving in northern Scotland, a harsh windswept landscape. How could anyone survive when the potato crops failed and food dwindled over several years?
But to look at Castlebar now, you would think it was a suburb of Dublin. Sleek medical clinics and supermarkets fanning out from its town centre. I found Castle street where my great grandfather’s pub had been before he sold it to set on his journey across the sea with his three young daughters. The pub looked like a normal green wooden building with frosted glass windows in the front.
I put my lips against the wall and prayed, thinking about their several days journey by horse cart to Galway, then by boat to Cork. Sailing from Cork, the same place the Titanic did, to New York and then making their way by train to Chicago. It must have taken a month to do it and they probably spent most of the money they realized from the sale of the pub and all their belongings.
Anger filled me as I recounted what the English landlords did. How they deprived the Catholics of food unless they professed faith in the Church of England. How they sold all the grain and meat from their vast estates offshore instead of feeding the people. One million dead and another million, like my great grandfather, emigrating to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even Mexico and South America.
To look at Ireland today, you would never know it, but the population has never risen back to the level it was a hundred years ago. It feels to me like the Irish are very forgiving and maybe all those centuries of servitude to the English made them very passive. I feel the same way about the Mexicans when I am there.
This country has recreated itself in the European Union and its cities are clean, vibrant, and its countryside shining emerald and fragrant. I still shed a tear for what they went through and the sacrifices they made to survive.
Erin go Bragh!
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
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