I am a Joyce because my mother is a Joyce. She was born in a small place called Derradda in Recess, County Galway. Derradda is Gaelic for “Long Oak Grove.” She was born in a thatched cottage with a dirt floor, and she had one pair of shoes only worn for worthy enough occasions. She was a native Irish speaker, though she learned English later. Her father and grandfather and great grandfather lived in cottages in Derradda before her, as well as many generations before that. I hope to learn their names. My mother was born in the 1930s. Her mother died from a fever when Mom was young. She was then raised by Nuns, and she left Ireland in the late 1950’s, at age 17, to work as a Nanny near Boston. She now lives down the road from me on an island on the East Coast of Florida where she drives a car, watches her digital TV, and she wears shoes on any day she chooses.
Genetic testing tells me that the women of my mother’s line have been in Ireland for about 60,000 years, most likely after following herds of animals for generations, and her male Joyce line arrived only recently around the year 1200, looking for land they could claim as their own. It is a shocking span of history I can barely comprehend. For the past 800 years or so, her Joyces lived and survived on contested land, occupied land, land they only controlled for a few hundred years, and then they defended it and their lives for hundreds more. You Joyces whose families left Ireland in the past few hundred years will probably find that your Irish background is similar, I think. Your people, our people, lived in that place where survival was not always certain. During the great famine, in Connemara, there were areas where 1 of 3 people either left permanently or died. There was occupation and subjugation. At one time, an Irishman was forbidden to speak his own language, and he was forbidden to own anything greater in value than a donkey. Lands were taken. Conflict was a way of life. From the time of Ireland’s first inhabitants until today, I believe that Ireland was unified under one King one time for a grand total of 12 consecutive years. His name was Brian Boru, and Thomas de Jorse married one of his line. His blood is in your veins too. Conflict is not new for Ireland. Ireland has the remains of 250,000 ring forts, made over time for self protection. It’s a fascinating history.
The Ireland of today is a relatively peaceful, beautiful, and friendly place. It is a phenomenon of the just late 20th Century and beyond though. I still keep in contact with cousins there, and I love my time spent with them visiting and fishing on the lakes of Connemara. You would be welcomed by the Irish as long lost children, for you are indeed part of a diaspora. The Irish have a painful but proud history. We are all part of it.