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Columnist:Epic Ireland, epic experience

DUBLIN, Ireland — Returning here from an 186 mile sojourn to Tralee, which is home to the famous rose festival, it was emotionally reverberating to tour Epic Ireland, a museum which came about, for the most part, by Neville Isdell, the one-time Coca-Cola chairman, and Mervyn Greene, his brother.

That experience led to an introduction to a charming lady by the name of Fiona O’Mahony, who enjoys helping those of Irish descent find out about themselves and their ancestors which is the goal of University of Georgia alumni Ted McMullan and his father, John. They came here knowing that the “original” John McMullan, emigrated to Virginia in about 1760, but wanted to know more about their family. The conclusion is they have come to the right place — Epic Ireland.

Fiona told us about an associate with the same given name, Fiona Fitzsimmons, who was able to trace the ancestry of the actor Tom Cruise back to 1825. If you are Irish and you want to know whether you are a Norman or a Viking descendant, for example, you might be able to find out if you visit Epic Ireland and connect with its affiliate research organizations such as “findmypast.ie” and associates like Fiona O’Mahony.

I’ve never been overwhelmed by genealogy, but have been told that my forebears were Scots-Irish. Someday I want to return to Epic Ireland and visit with the Fionas to see if I might be related to Maureen O’Hara, my favorite Irish woman — Maureen O’Hara, the flaming redhead, and John Wayne, whose ancestry was English and Scots-Irish, in a vibrant Western— nothing more classic America than that.

If you want to delve deep in the Irish influence on the U. S — actually the world — you get a stunning glimpse from Epic Ireland which confirms that it would be difficult to find a people who have influenced the world more than the Irish who were about as abused as the American Indians. Under the long term domination of the English, the Irish, who were mostly Catholic, could not own land for example, just one of the many penal laws which makes one wonder why a dominant society can direct such inhumane treatment on others.

I remember a dinner one evening here, years ago, with a writer, David Guiney, who was wont to espouse the continuing regret of the English rule. The eternal curse of the Irish, he noted, was to “put bandy legs on the Queen.”

Considering the Civil War and its aftermath, you become aware that it was always a source of emotional pride to castigate those who were born or lived above the Mason-Dixon line. “Forget hell,” the colorful Confederate cartoon, does not reflect the deep sensitivities that the Irish have had for the English for years.

Those deep rooted discriminations, however, led to an Irish exodus that had a positive influence on the world, albeit tragic in that things were considered so bad in Ireland that emigration was the best option. Yet many of those who left their homeland only transferred their downside at home to a similar one abroad.

At least, in the New World, they were free to worship as they pleased and they could own land and property, provided they could afford it. Out of those troubles and strife grew a legion of accomplished men and women, who helped America, among other nations, become truly great. Times were not great with their courageous venture, but they were not starving and faced no unconscionable penal laws.

Of course, most everyone is familiar with the mass exodus brought about by the potato famine, owing principally to a blight, in 1845. Ireland over a period of time lost about half of its population. The Irish Diaspora had an influence on culture worldwide— especially food, music and literature. Just as the potato blight left its mark on Ireland, the Irish have left their mark on the world.

There’s crooner Bing Crosby, actress Grace Kelly, George Cohan, the Broadway icon. John Fitzgerald Kennedy; Robert Fulton, the inventor; and James Hoban, who designed the White House. George Bernard Shaw, the only person to win a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award. Mike “King” Kelly, baseball’s first superstar and Jack Norworth, who wrote, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The writer, James Joyce. Pysician Sir Hans Sloane whose extensive collections led to the founding of the British Museum and whose recipe led to the origination of chocolate. And whomever it was that invented soda bread.

Boxers, singers, dancers, poets, actors and writers. Then there was also Billy the Kid and Catherine O’Leary. You know the impact Catherine and her cow had on Chicago.

And, of course, what could be more fun that the Irish tradition of St. Patrick’s day. Here’s to the Irish and emigration as sad as it was for so many.

Epic Ireland is an epic experience.

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Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.