I visited Strabane this weekend and had the great joy to meet the parents of Aidan McLaughlin. Our family hosted Aidan 17 years ago through project children. His parents are wonderful. Only one of their children live in the area. Aidan has moved to Liverpool almost seven years ago to make his life.
Strabane is a quiet town of mostly Catholics. Just across the River Finn is County Donegal. The South. The Republic. Ireland. In the past this would have been a heavily armored police checkpoint as border crossings have become from Texas to California. Within Strabane there are a few rougher neighborhoods moving up a bit, but still contain murals and painted lightposts to let you know the make up of its people.
Thirty miles west of Strabane is the birthplaces of both my great grandmother and great grandfather on my father’s mother’s side. Got that? My father’s grandparents are from northern Co. Donegal. A rough and rocky area. Bleak land as Pat McLaughlin called it. I loved it. Moving to the desolation of New Mexico made a lot more sense to me after seeing this area. Creeslough and Letterfad are separated by craggy vales and windy roads. Somehow my great grandparents left these tiny towns and met in America. I come from this improbability. Creeslough is big enough for maps and road signs. Letterfad, though marked on googlemaps, was unknown to the few people we asked along the road in two gas stations. These young people had never heard of it! Each time we asked, the area was less than five miles from them.
We made it to Creeslough and had a quick pint in the Log Cabin, complete with John Wayne images on the walls. The lady who owned it knew exactly what I was asking off and told us a general area on the north side of the road by which we entered Creeslough. We thanked her and headed back to Strabane. It was enough to have a Guinness in Creeslough. Driving back east, our heads craning to the left, looking for signs, for evidence of life in Letterfad. Pat made an insanely instinctual left turn at a near dirt road. We figured this would be about where to look. Lo and behold. The sign to Letterfad was off the post and tucked beneath the grass. It wasn’t pointing at much. But I’ll never forget the discovery. Next time I am in Ireland I know exactly where to go. There is a church and burial ground nearby which I can investigate next time. I hope my family is with me.
But this kind of magic describes what it was like to meet Pat and Margaret McLaughlin. They are sweet people with a great family, typical of the Irish heart and generosity. It was a great weekend. I am thankful for reconnecting these distant friends back into our lives. Enjoy the pictures. To be framed for sure!