The history of Ireland is inspiring and mournful.

We spent a day in Cobh/Cove (formerly Queenstown – renamed after Independence), the site from which many of the three million Irish departed between 1829 and 1970 and the last port of call for the Titanic and the Lusitania, both ill-fated voyages.

The exhibit was interactive and our tickets included the name of one of the passengers on sailing ships that plied the Atlantic. Our task was to find their personal story among the artifacts. What a contrast between conditions in steerage (cramped, damp and dark) and the upper deck, complete with fine china, silverware and luxurious saloons.

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It was heartbreaking to view the Coffin Ships that transported (and buried at sea) thousands of desperately poor Irish men, women and children. The stick-thin statues commemorating The Hunger stopped us in our tracks. Conditions were so bad, parents would send their children by ship to America in the hopes they’d have a better life.  And because literacy was low, they never heard from them again.

Fact: the first person processed through Ellis Island on January 1, 1892 was fifteen-year old Annie Moore, who arrived with her two younger brothers to join their parents in New York. Annie married three years later, gave birth to ten children and died of heart failure at age fifty.

The Cliffs of Moher were starkly magnificent. Next stop – Newfoundland. Despite all the signs warning of landslides, there were still twits scrambling close to the edge for ‘that special selfie’. And it took me a while to realize why there were so many discreet signs encouraging visitors in need to contact the  Good Samaritans hotline. Like the Golden Gate bridge, the Cliffs are a magnet for suicides.

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Staring across the heaving grey expanse of endless sea makes you appreciate the bravery and desperation that drove so many Irish people to emigrate.

Genealogy is very popular. When you look at the Irish surnames, it’s clear that much of North America owes its roots to Irish ancestors. My grandmother’s surname was Murphy – a typical Irish moniker. I suspect that one of her forefathers’ owners in the Caribbean gave his slaves that name, because grandma was neither red-haired nor freckled, as are many of the Irish lassies we saw!