The museum is filled with photos, news accounts, and documents, but what really got to me was the lists: particularly, there was a list of about 20 people who were to get a slice of meat at Christmas. On the list were a couple of names crossed off and I wondered the reason. Had they commited some offence? Had they failed to work hard enough? Or had they died?
Both Jim and I felt extremely moved and also that we’d learned a lot about a piece of history that is convoluted and still shrouded in opinion, mystery and shame but the real message of the museum is that the history of the famine has distinct relevance to the current state of the world: That same ‘perfect storm’ of conditions exists in the present: the unbalanced distribution of wealth and power; overpopulation; unnatural (and unsustainable) dependence on specific crops; racism; elitism; arrogance and greed. What we learned also gave us pause in thinking about our Tanners. What were the circumstances that brought them to America? What resources (physical, spiritual or mental) sustained them not only through the worst of the famine but through the journey so that they survived - against the odds - as a family of five?
We left the museum and decided to walk through the estate gardens, which provided a welcome – and life-filled- relief. Then headed for the Strokestown Genealogy Centre – which, unfortunately (for us) was closed. We had a brief discussion about possible locations for our Tanners and before heading off again, I decided to pull out my notes on the Tanners in the area: two George Tanners were listed near Longford – in Ballymacormick, Meelick and Kilcommock, Ards and one near Strokestown in Kiltrustan. I told Jim I’d been able to find all but Kitrustan on Google Maps (I love Google Maps!). We got back in the car and went no more than 2 miles, when we both simultaneously spotted a roadsign...KILTRUSTAN!. We stared at each other, open-mouthed (which in my cae was rather dangerous, because I was driving). I turned the car around and we posed for pictures next to the sign, then headed up the road to see what we could find.
At the top of the road was an old graveyard with a ruined stone building (I suspect the old church) at the centre. We wandered through the gravestones – hoping against hope that we might find a Tanner amongst them. We didn’t, but were still well satisfied and trying hard not to get too mystical about the whole turn of events.
We hiked up the steep hill to the cairns at the top and what opened before us was an extraordinary vista...a landcsape strewn with hills, cairns, lakes & a churning sky as far as the eye could see. It was breathtakingly beautiful- powerful, quiet, wild and remote: the site seems to hover over the surrounding countryside. We explored a number of cairns before heading back to the car, Jim (wanting to live) offered to drive us out again and I gratefully let him. We tackled that hill in style..nearly stalling at the top, but thankfully we made it and have lived to tell (though we did have a few moments of wondering if our Irish adventure was going to end in a heap at the bottom of Carrowkeel)...I guess there are worse ways and places to go!
We ended the day in Sligo at the Harbour House backpackers and headed off for a well-deserved dinner and a pint. On the advice of one of the hostel workers, we, found a great pub where Jim got his first hit of traditional Irish music played by a great local crew of players – a concertina, 2 guitars, 2 flutes and a violin. The only trouble? The Irish are night owls and we were to find out that the music scene never gets going until 10pm...too late for us earlybirds – besides, we’re sooooo sleepy. Back at the Hostel, I fell off to sleep listening while Jim read Yeats.