Bess and Alta's Ireland Travelogue

Our Trip to Ireland – September, 1977

Bess Hannan & Alta Pearson (Transcribed by Nancy Washburn in 2013 from Bess’ hand-written journal)

We left on the flight to Ireland on the Boeing jet of Aer Lingus Irish Airway. We took the northern route to Montreal, and after a short wait there because of an airplane strike in Canada, we resumed our journey by way of Newfoundland across the Atlantic Ocean to Shannon, our first stop in Ireland. After an hour or so, we flew on to Dublin, but not before we had an opportunity to admire the breathtaking view of the beautiful landscape of Shannon with its many patches of small green fields, each one surrounded by shrubbery of different kinds, and its beautiful gardens and trees.

   After passing through the Dublin custom building successfully, we exchanged some of our American money for Irish currency. The journey to Dublin took about half an hour. Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, is situated on the east coast of Ireland, where the Liffey River enters the Irish Sea. On the south are the Wicklow and Dublin mountains, and in the northwest of the city is Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in Western Europe. Dublin has a population of about 750,000 people, engaged in all walks of life. It is the largest city of Ireland, which is about the size of the state of Maine. It has thirty two counties—26 in the southern section and six in the northern part, which is known as Ulster and is governed by England.

   On our first tour around Dublin we visited Trinity College, which was founded in 1591. It was of great interest to us because our Great Grandfather Thomas Watson (the teacher), graduated from this college and was a teacher for 40 years in the schools of Ireland. The famous Book of Kells and many important manuscripts are located there. There are a great many memorials to men connected with its foundation and early days. The college is built of granite and brick, and the lawn is of cobblestones, trees and flowers. Trinity College is divided into huge squares. The large library is called The Front Square and is on Library Square. They have a square for each field of education, such as science, medicine, education, mathematics, religion and many others. They also have a large chapel and dining hall. It is one of the largest and most modern colleges in the world. Many poets, authors, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and other notable people received their training here, among them Scott (Walter), Swift (Jonathan) and Moore (Thomas).

   From Trinity College, we went into a display shop where they showed Waterford hand-cut glass and stemware, Irish linen, knitted sweaters, and pottery made in Ireland, known all over the world for its excellent quality and famous workmanship. A little farther on we passed Dublin Castle, St Patrick’s Hall, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, and then in Dublin’s oldest part, we came to St Patrick’s Cathedral, dating back to 1131, and the burial place of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and former Dean of St Patrick’s. A large tomb is erected to his memory and buried beside him is his housekeeper of many years (“Stella” Esther Johnson may or may not have married him in 1716). A little farther on in this cathedral, we came to the Tomb of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. He is buried over one of the Seven Wells he discovered and made sacred by his many religious teachings.

   We also visited this cathedral with its rich and picturesque seating places for the kings and queens who visited there when it was under British rule. Queen Victoria was the last queen to visit there.

   Our next stop was at Phoenix Park. Here they have about the most beautiful rose gardens in the world. They are planted in many different forms and colors. There are many other varieties of flowers, but the roses make the most beautiful picture. The trees and shrubs of every description are very attractive. They also have a museum filled with all sorts of animals from various parts of the world.

   We left Dublin to visit Avoca, County Wicklow, and the birthplace of some of our ancestors, the large Livingston and Watson families. Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea border on the southern coast of Ireland. We passed many beautiful homes. One was that of John McCormack, the great and famous Irish tenor. We were shown where the Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea, past the Glenborough with its beautiful mountain scenery and many beautiful flower gardens. County Wicklow is called the “Garden of Ireland.”

   We passed through several Vales before coming to the Vale of Avoca, made famous by Thomas Moore’s poem, “The Meeting of the Waters.” Our Grandfather Thomas Watson and his young bride, Margaret Nelson Watson, came to America after their marriage and lived in New Orleans for several years before locating in Grant County, Clifton Township at Crow Branch, where a number of other relatives had located. He became an attorney, held many other important offices and spent much time teaching his eight children before they entered school. His young wife died while some of the children were very young. He became lonely and returned to his native land, and one of his most treasured locations was the Vale of Avoca. After his death many friends paid tribute to him, and one especially said he would never forget how he recited the “Meeting of the Waters” with so much beauty and understanding.

   We went to the small village of Avoca and there met some relatives who entertained us with much friendliness in their large and beautiful home. They lived on a farm, milked about fifty cows, raised poultry of all kinds, had sheep and horses and took care of the adjoining cemetery where some of the relatives are buried, and we were privileged to step inside the old church where our Great Grandfather Thomas Watson had the choir for many years. The church has now been rebuilt in a different location and all the Protestant Episcopal records of the Church of England are kept there.

Image of present-day village of Avoca, County Wicklow

Current-day view of village of Avoca, County Wicklow

   On this journey we had an opportunity to see some of the trees of Ireland—such as the oak, elm, and beech. The rainfall and humidity are not favorable to raising orchards. Shrubs develop everywhere; mosses cling to the stone hedges. Shamrock and heather grow in great abundance. Ireland is about the only place in the world where we find shamrock growing.

   We noticed many names along the way common to the Irish people, such as O’Sullivan, O’Connell, O’Toole, O’Neil, O’Flaherty, O’Casey, O’Brien and Guinness.

   The climate of Ireland has contributed much to its beauty. The warm rains help to keep the island continually green.

We started from Dublin to visit Castlecomer, Ireland, the birthplace of our father, John Hill and his brother Richard, and many other Hill relatives. We traveled through rich farm lands and picturesque villages. Many of the homes along the way were covered with roses. They had many homes surrounded by rose gardens. Some of the cottages had beautiful thatched roofs and flower and vegetable gardens everywhere. The sheep on every farm, the cows of every breed, the beautiful and useful-looking horses, the stacks of corn and hay and the peat for fuel being cut to dry gives one a sense of security and peace. We did not see finer land, more beautiful homes or kindlier people in Ireland.

   Castlecomer is a city of about 3,000 people and is located in a thriving community. It has four factories, so they have no employment problem at this time.

   We saw the Protestant Episcopal School or Church of England school that our father and other Hill relatives attended. It is a large building, which is now used as an Assembly Hall. It must have been an excellent school because our father seemed to have a great knowledge of all the worthwhile places and things in the world. He was a great student of the Bible and taught all his children the Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, and the great and interesting Biblical stories of the Bible.

   We visited the Rectory with all its beautiful surroundings. The church is now known as the Church of Ireland since Southern Ireland became a Free State. The Rector keeps all records of the church, such as births, marriages, and deaths. We also saw the church, which is well kept, and also the adjoining cemetery.

   Kilkenny is about 12 miles from Castlecomer. It is the county seat and one of the larger, more prosperous cities of Ireland.

   Cork is the third largest city in size. It is one of the important ports of Ireland, and five miles away is the Blarney Castle. Some of our relatives have walked up the steps and kissed the Blarney Stone, which is in the ceiling. It is supposed that the gift of eloquence is bestowed upon those who kiss the Blarney Stone.

The Meeting of the Waters

By Thomas Moore

There’s not in this wide world a valley so sweet,

As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet.

Oh, the last ray of feeling and life must depart,

E’er the bloom of the valley shall fade from my heart.

Yet it is not nature had shed o’er the scene

Her purest of crystal and brightest of green.

T’was not the soft magic of streamlet or hill;

Oh, no, it was something more exquisite still

T’was that friends the beloved of my bosom were near

Who feel how the best charms of nature improve

When we see them reflected in look that we love.

Image of Vale of Avoca, Ireland, from Library of Congress

The Vale of Avoca, County Wicklow, Ireland