Twelve years ago when I came to Ireland I sought out the village named Ringaskiddy (locals call it The Ring) because it was the home of my great-great-grandfather James Henry Herbert and his wife Margaret Sullivan. They both died relatively early in life but before they did they had a few children one of whom was my great grandfather Henry W Herbert. Henry was left without either parent by age 16 so he was then looked after by his uncle and some years later he emigrated to the United States via Queenstown, Ireland, a city which has now gone on to reclaim the name of its heritage An Cobh (pronounced like the word cove). If you are Irish and you live in America there is at least a 50% chance your relatives left from Cobh harbor because of the three million Irish emigrants who fled to the US during the period of heavy emigration from 1850 to the end of WWII, better than half left from Cobh.
My trip to The Ring twelve years ago left me wanting for much more. When I came twelve years ago I was in a different place and it was a different time. I perhaps wasn’t ready to feel this place the way I’m capable of feeling it now at age fifty. The information we can access now through Google and Wikipedia and things of similar nature makes it much easier to find the subtle connections on the map of dots we follow to find our answers. On the trip twelve years ago all I found was that the Ring had become a heavily populated commercial area with Pfizer plants and Johnson and Johnson headquarters. The local pub I found had only been there 30 years and carried no history forward. I had hoped to sit at a bar that one of my ancestors sat at and have a pint of Guinness but no such place existed.
So I came back to The Ring this time with a hope and a belief that that I could find a way to connect to the past a bit more completely. On the night before our arrival I pulled up a wikipedia search on Ringaskiddy. The only thing of note in the posting was the mention of a Martello tower at the top of the highest hilltop in Ring. This information wasn’t available to me twelve years ago. The tower has stood there for hundreds if not thousands of years. The wiki posting mentioned that you could access the tower from the Lough Beg road and that the spot offered panoramic views of Cobh harbor. I figured if the tower had been there as long as it had and it was at the top of the hill with views of the sea there was no chance in the world that Herbert men of days gone by with their love of the sea hadn’t climbed up their to smell the sea air and be mischievous. I had to find that tower.
No sooner than we drove into Ring I immediately saw the sign for Lough Beg road. We drove past it so I turned around and went back. I turned down Lough Beg road with great anticipation of finding the road to the top of the hill and after we drove about a mile we drove right up to the…
gate to a Johnson and Johnson factory.
My heart sank, only this time it sank even more so than it did twelve years ago because this time I truly believed and had some confidence that I was ready to find these answers. We turned and drove back to the main part of town, which at this point is all of a few houses and that one same pub that was here twelve years ago. I figured there was at least a chance someone would know more about the route to the tower. On our way back down Lough Beg road I noticed a little stairway up the hill that seemed to lead to nowhere except a bunch of old trees. I stopped the car and turned around to investigate more fully. Christiana asked me if I wanted to put on my shoes first (I drive in my stocking feet usually) and I replied, “No I just want to give it a look and see if it leads to anything more.” I climbed the stairs in my stocking feet and I saw a very thin path that ran next to an old fence. The path was overgrown with wild blackberry bushes, but it was most definitely a path.
I returned to the car to gather my shoes and my wife. Much to Christiana’s dismay I jammed my leaf covered socks into my boots without brushing them off. We then together went back up the stairs and proceeded down the path. The further we got down the path the narrower it became, but that only made me walk faster. Christiana had on tights and a wool sweater so let’s just say the bushes were a bit less welcoming to her than they were to me in my heavy denims and hiking boots. She pushed on nonetheless because she knew how much this meant to me. As we got nearer to the top of the hill all I could see peaking out was a tall electric wire mount and a wind turbine in the distance. But then after about ten minutes of winding and twisting through the thorns and the berries I saw what looked to be an opening in the path that led to a field of grass and in the middle of that field of grass stood the Martello tower. It was the most beautiful collection of old ruined stones I have ever seen in my life. I ran to the tower and climbed up the exterior wall and then I turned around and saw for the first time in my life the view of Cobh harbor that Wikipedia had promised just last night.
I saw the same view of Cobh harbor that James Henry and William Henry had seen almost 150 years ago. I knew this to be true with every fiber of my being. On this trip I have seen more than my fair share of sacred spaces, but to me this space is as sacred as any of them. On the way out of town we stopped at that same 30-year old pub that was now 40 years old and had a half pint of Guinness. It didn’t bother me anymore that none of my ancestors had ever sat there and had a pint. My tower quest was now complete. As we drove out of Ringaskiddy I thought to myself, “I wonder if that pub will be there 150 years from now? Maybe my great-great grandson will have a pint there?” As Christiana’s grandmother always liked to say, “You just don’t never know…”