In this detailed chronicle, author Leslie Lee travels through southwest Ireland between the Dingle Peninsula and County Cork seeking her maternal ancestry.
In 2010, as she attempts to discover the authentic Ireland, (this is her fifth book about her Irish sojourns), Lee keeps a daily diary of the dizzying road trips along the windswept Irish landscape dominated by seaside cliffs, castles, cottages, and colorful characters. With her accompanying vibrant sketches, pub musicians, architecture, and natural geography come alive. Numerous meticulously hand-drawn maps trace Lee’s looping adventures around the craggy peninsula.
With the help of a genealogist and an unexpected DNA match, Lee unearths one Bridget O’Donovan, born in the mid-1800s and a missing link in her direct matrilineal line. Meanwhile, she imagines that the local landscape contains the history of generations facing great struggles and the exodus of her probable ancestors to America. Encountering the Roaring Water River at Proch an Easa, Lee is overcome with the waters that cascade “over the edge of the precipice into a dark, deep pit created by the relentless pounding of the ceaselessly rushing river— the hole made by the waterfall.” Here was the river that brought her ancestors to the sea they dared cross to escape poverty and deprivation.
Unfortunately, most of Lee’s journal contains minimal reflection and an abundance of momentum-stalling detail, including descriptions of accommodations, meals, tea time, weather and traveling companions. The narrative also weaves in an exhaustive timeline of Irish history, from invading Vikings to the assault of the English. The book takes a more interesting turn, however, in its concluding chapters as we learn more about Lee’s great-great grandmother’s Michigan roots and the author’s continued search for her “Irish heart.”
While many readers will be deterred by the narrative’s copious mundane detail, those familiar with Ireland might enjoy this as a reminder of their own travels. For future travelers, this highly personal travelogue suggests day trip ideas and highlights to enjoy.
Also available as an ebook.