A journey through time

Traveler traces grandfather’s steps on Ireland in Depth

I’ve been a wild rover for many a year, and I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and beer. But now I’m returning with gold in great store, and I never will play the wild rover no more,” sang 11-time traveler Joan Pugh alongside her good friend Vernon Tracey and her new-found Irish friends in a dimly lit pub in Killarney. Since her first trip with Grand Circle in 2004, Joan has certainly “played the wild rover,” as the famous Irish ditty goes. But it wasn’t until her Ireland in Depth trip last year that she finally had the chance to really discover to her ancestral home.

In 1892, on its way from Liverpool, the S/S City of Chicago docked at Cobh before continuing on to Ellis Island in New York City. Joan’s grandfather, Charles Eustace—only 19 years old at the time—yearned to escape the hardships and political upheaval happening in the country at the time. And so, as the ship set sail for America, Charles sat hunkered in steerage with dreams of a new life in a strange new place.

She climbed the same steep staircase leading up to Saint Colman’s Cathedral, where he went to pray before disembarking on his journey across the sea; and smelled the same salty air he breathed as he boarded the City of Chicago and said goodbye to Ireland forever.

“It was very spiritual,” she said. And it would seem that fate had played a part (be it big or small) in bringing Joan in touch with her ancestral past. The year 2013 in Ireland was dubbed “The Gathering,” a government-supported initiative urging descendants of Irish immigrants to return to their ancestors’ homeland.

She didn’t discover until 1998 that her grandfather left an entire family back in Ireland. “He left behind his parents and eight siblings,” Joan said. But this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence among Irish immigrants during—and after—the Potato Famine. “He was forced to leave. He couldn’t afford to go back and he couldn’t afford to send them money. He felt sad. He was full of guilt. He just wanted to forget. So he closed that book and started a whole new life in the U.S.”

On May 23rd, 1892, Charles arrived in the U.S., where he met and married Brigid Carey and fathered seven children. The youngest was Joan’s father. More than a century later, as she roamed through the halls at the White Star terminal in Cobh, Joan knew this was where her grandfather had stood waiting to board the City of Chicago.

Portraits of Charles Eustace and his wife, Brigid Eustace, after their immigration from Ireland to the U.S. near the end of the 19th century.

”He never spoke of his life and family back in Ireland,” said Joan of her grandfather. “He died in 1946, when I was only 3. But because of my visit to the small town where he spent the last few hours in his homeland, I feel I know him a little better now. Had I not taken this vacation with Grand Circle, I never would have made this connection with my grandfather.”

But it turned out connecting with her grandfather’s past wasn’t the end of Joan’s ancestral journey. Before departing her hometown of Joppa, Maryland, for the rocky shores of Ireland, her 95-year-old aunt, Mary Varhol, put her in touch with long-lost relatives.

Barbara Long, the Program Director for our trip, was very helpful in getting me to my relatives,” Joan said. “The Program Directors are always great. I’ve yet to have one who wasn’t an expert and charming and easy to get along with. Barbara was extra-special because she lived in the U.S. for 17 years so she was able to compare Irish life to life in the U.S. She was a real catalyst for us to learn, discover, and have fun.”

With Barbara’s help, Joan rode a bus 60 miles south to Milltown Malbay, where she met her cousins Mary and Michael Eustace.

Joan, left, connected with long-lost cousins, Mary and Michael Eustace, during her journey through Ireland.

“It’s a great thing to meet people who share your blood,” Joan said. “It was really special.”

While meeting her family was a major highlight during her tour through Ireland, Joan made many more connections along the way.

“All the group members were great,” she said. “They were all very compatible and extremely social. I like to float around so that, by the end of the trip, I’ve met everyone. I like to go from table to table during dinner. I never felt unwelcomed. I’m not a passive traveler. I like to join in and participate, no matter where I go. I love learning and discovering—and you can learn and discover by joining in.”

And join in she certainly did. During their Home-Hosted Lunch with Mary and Michael Martin, Joan dove into a bowl of piping-hot Irish lamb stew. “I’m not a lamb eater, but Mary’s stew made me a convert,” she said. “It was out of this world.”

During that same afternoon, after their bellies were full, Joan and her friend Vernon tossed around a sliotar (a type of ball) using a pair of hurley sticks. Both are used in the sport of hurling—similar to lacrosse—a national pastime in Ireland. Mary Martin, once a hurling champion, even gave the group a demonstration.

Joan’s good friend, Vernon, posed with a sliotar and a hurley stick during their Home-Hosted Lunch in Cobh.

“It was really, really special,” Joan said. “The experience was an insight into the nuances of daily life. Back home in Maryland, all we talk about are the Ravens and the Orioles. But there, it’s all about hurling! It was utterly unique.”

During the tour of the Waterford Crystal factory, their love for all things baseball was sated once more. As they ambled past molders, blowers, sculptors, and engravers, one glittering piece of crystal in particular prompted them to stop and stare. It was a baseball mitt—intricately cut and reflecting the light from above. At the time, it was being engraved for Mariano Rivera, the retired pitcher who played 19 seasons for the New York Yankees.

Vernon paid homage to the Baltimore Orioles during their tour of the Waterford Crystal factory in Waterford.

Killarney National Park was amazing too,” Joan added. “The Torc Waterfall doesn’t usually flow—especially in August when it’s really hot—but it was gushing the day we saw it.”

The 65-foot-high Torc Waterfall, located in Killarney National Park, is best viewed after a heavy rainfall.

The Dingle Experience optional tour was another highlight for Joan. “The landscape was beautiful here,” she said. “And the fish and chips in the small fishing village were delicious. It was a hometown kind of thing. It’s all about the culture—that’s what I really like.”

The verdant countryside along the Dingle Peninsula reminded Joan of her home back in Maryland.

Visiting Irish pubs, chowing down on fish and chips, and singing Irish drinking songs with the locals—Joan’s immersion into the ways of life in Ireland didn’t stop there. During a visit at a local bar, Joan was able to learn an Irish dance, taught to her by an up-and-coming dance champion.

He was only 16 years old, but he was really good,” Joan said. “I danced first when no one else would move. Then everyone started in. I’ll always be singing and dancing!”

Joan worked up a sweat as she practiced her Irish dance moves at a local pub in Ireland.

Back home in Maryland, the words to that catchy Irish drinking song rang through her head. “I’ve been a wild rover for many a year, and I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and beer. But now I’m returning with gold in great store, and I never will play the wild rover no more.”

Without a doubt, Joan had returned with “gold in great store”—especially great insight into her family’s homeland. Upon her return, she felt the urge to inspire those around her. “The Ireland in Depth trip was my motivation … I belong to the Red Hat Society and I’m hosting a luncheon soon,” she explained. “I’ve asked each lady to bring a dish based on her heritage. I’m doing Ireland, of course. I’m going to make shepherd’s pie.”

Looking back at her time spent in Ireland, Joan has several tips for those thinking about making the voyage across the Atlantic.

“Before you go, see if there are any festivals going on,” she said. “They’re really fun and make your trip much more special. Also, rent a bicycle and go for a ride through Killarney National Park. Bicycle rental places are all over, and it’s easy to do. The park is flat and huge. It’s a great place to bike.”

And above all?

“Be prepared to walk a lot,” she laughed.

Enjoy Ireland in Depth like Joan did, featuring several enhancements in 2014 including new included tours, a Guinness discovery session, and an added night in Kilkenny. To view a video featuring travelers like her, click here.