Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tyrone Diary 2012- Digging Our Roots

I have to give Katie credit for the title.  It is so appropriate.  This entire project is about digging our historical roots.  Lowell’s Irish past began on the very ground in which we dig.  In a sense we’re time travelers.  Though it may be 2012 we stand here on the stones of a tenant farmer living in County Tyrone in the 1700s.  We know much about the family’s story.  We have a good idea of the type of house they lived in.  We’re learning about their daily lives through what they have left behind for us to find.  We see the same views they saw every day, for little has changed in the landscape in Crossan over the centuries.  We also know that they leave this place and make their way to America where their story become so integrated with Lowell’s roots.  Each shovelful of dirt uncovers another detail to our story.

The title is not only figurative, but literal.  We’re digging roots for about 6 hours a day.  Colm stands over us looking pensive and directs us to dig here, then there.  There is a method to his madness.  Slowly things begin to be revealed- a ledge, a yard, a wall.  A large piece of 19th century porcelain appears- good stuff that would have been kept on the top shelf of your hutch and only taken out when the priest came for supper.  Just before the end of the day a piece of clay pipe was found with part of a marking that says “Bally….” on it.  Ahh, this family had just enough money to have a good plate and a bit of tobacco.  Today is Thursday.  By 4 pm our knees hurt, our backs ache, and the hands begin to cramp, but Colm can be seen scraping away using his trusty trowel that no one else can touch. 

He’s an interesting man.  Without his commitment this project would cease to exist.  He has added a new chapter into Lowell’s Irish past.  Beyond the archaeological initiation we are all obtaining, everyday there is a short history lesson.  It’s never given in a lecture but in true Irish fashion in a story.  When the bard speaks we are all drawn in.  Studying history is worthless unless we connect it to ourselves, and therefore a talk on Irish wakes turns into a discussion on views of life.  This is teaching and learning in its widest and best sense.  But then again we remind ourselves it is Thursday, and we have just one more day to take all of this in. 

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