Beth and I had so much fun writing back and forth about our visit to northern Vermont and its three cemeteries where some of our ancestors lie! See this link:
So, Beth pulled out some of her writings from her last trip to Ireland. Here are two more cemetery visits which stuck with her:
This makes me think of other emigrants from Derry, that I found out about only after coming across this blissfully calm, very small, graveyard off to the side on the city walls. I ducked through the doorway simply because I could see a tiny expanse of green, and colorful, delicate flowers. It was like a secret garden towards the end of the walk along four-hundred year old cobblestones, among cannons and cannon balls and views of the surrounding countryside seen from slits in the defensive walls. Once inside, I could see very old grave slabs but the odd thing was they were not upright at the head of each grave, as they always are in cemeteries, but had been lined up, leaning against the churchyard walls. Apparently, I found out, they had been arranged this way so they would not be damaged by cannon fire during the sieges. This small, enclosed space was beautiful but haunted, after I read that.
Now, I’m a Kinsella, I grew up taking walks in graveyards, reading the gravestones, often the ones in Perth, after a visit to the Dairy Queen across the street. The dead in cemeteries don’t bother me. But this did. Unsettling me further was the plaque outside the entranceway I had missed on my way in. It said this was the first Presbyterian church in Derry, and I knew from my reading, that the Presbyterians would be almost as persecuted as the Catholics in Protestant-controlled Ireland. The Penal Laws, that so viciously and diabolically discriminated against the Catholics, were also used against the Presbyterians, whose only crime was that they were not the right sort of Protestants (not Anglicans). I learned on this trip to Derry that most of the emigration from Ireland in the 18th century was from this port, and most of it was people we call the ‘Ulster Scots’ and they, to my vast surprise, were the Presbyterians fleeing poverty and discrimination. That majority of signers of the Declaration of Independence that we are taught are Ulster Scots? They were this group, who were leaving a place for a second time, and going to a country where they would fight to make a different kind of place.
When I was at the Yeats Summer School in Sligo, we all went to an Eavan Boland poetry reading which was one of the highlights (she had been my Yeats teacher one semester in Dublin and I had loved her). One of her most moving poems was about the ‘famine roads,’ that went nowhere, that you can happen upon today, still. But she has another of hers that described a certain spot in Dublin I had noticed and had wondered about, when I was in Dublin for a few days before the summer school. The poem captures as well, the depth of loss and displacement and fear that I come across in so much of my reading about the sixteenth century, but also what was felt by those leaving Cobh, and Derry (which I hadn’t known was a Famine port) and Dun Laoghaire (which was just up the road from me my year in Ireland), and the Highlands -- for foreign soil.
The Huguenot Graveyard in the Heart of the City!
It is the immodesty we bring to these
names which have eased into ours, and
their graves in the alcove of twilight,
which shadows their exile:
There is flattery in being a destination.
There is vanity in being the last resort.
They fled the Edict of Nantes –
hiding their shadows on the roads from France –
and now under brambles and granite
faith lies low with the lives it
dispossessed, and the hands it emptied out,
and the sombre dances they were joined in.
The buses turn right at Stephen’s Green.
Car exhausts and sirens fill the air. See
the planted wildness of their rest and
grant to them the least love asks of
the living. Say: They had another life once.
And think of them as they first heard of us:
huddled around candles and words failing as
the stubborn tongue of the South put
oo and an to the sounds of Dublin,
and of their silver fingers at the window-sill
in the full moon as they leaned out
to breathe the sweet air of Nimes
for the last time, and the flame
burned down in a dawn agreed upon
for their heart-broken leave-taking. And,
for their sakes, accept in that moment,
this city with its colours of sky and day –
and which is dear to us and particular –
was not a place to them: merely
the one witty step ahead of hate which
is all that they could keep. Or stay.
Huguenot Cemetery Gate
I had just about reached the limits my body and mind were willing to go when I came upon a small, dark enclosed space. It was there on a main street, but was set back and guarded by an old-fashioned black iron gate, almost lacy in design. I suppose it is impossible that the sounds truly stopped and that in this corner silence reigned, but that is what it felt like. I didn’t go in because I could see it was a graveyard and I didn’t want to disturb them, whoever they were. It felt an ancient place to me, though, and I did wonder who, in Dublin’s skyrocketing real estate prices, had earned this undisturbed rest. I felt the strength and grace of the place and did not ﬁnd out until much later, after reading an utterly moving poem by Eavan Boland, that this small, held back place was a graveyard for the Huguenots, who had ﬂed France to a country they had not longed to go to, but which was instead, “the one witty step ahead of hate which / is all that they could keep. Or stay.”
As January runs its course, I think back to a year and a half ago, when we said goodbye to Uncle Harold on that cold October morning at the Waterloo Cemetery. We stood shoulder to shoulder, family and friends, listening to the tones of Taps resonating so beautifully. We prayed and laughed and cried together as we remembered our Harold Baker Taylor. One of the many things cemeteries and walks around them are good for—to pass on the stories of the family who came before us. Again, we thank our ancestors for their rich stories and memories they passed on to us.