Canada’s Celtic Connection . . . .

That’s the headline on my column in the latest issue (August-September) of Canada’s History magazine. The piece touches on JFK, the “coffin ships” that brought so many immigrants to Canada, and the new statue in Londonderry that matches one in Halifax harbour. It begins as follows:

Some years ago, while driving with friends in Canada, an Irishman heard a Newfoundlander warn a third party against stepping out of a car into traffic: “Don’t get out on the Ballyhack side.” The visitor, astounded, asked the Newfoundlander to explain. The man said the expression meant, “Don’t get out on the right.” But why it meant that, or where the word “Ballyhack” came from, he had no idea.

The Irishman, who hailed from New Ross in County Wexford, explained that, for someone travelling the short distance south from his home town to the Atlantic, the village of Ballyhack lies to the right. Not only that, but the Irishman could account for how the expression crossed the ocean: generations of fishermen had sailed from New Ross to fish for cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

The man who told me this anecdote, Patrick Grennan, shares an ancestor with former American president John F. Kennedy. Grennan has developed the original Kennedy Homestead, just outside New Ross, into a tourist attraction. Once the home of JFK’s emigrant ancestor, Patrick Kennedy, the Homestead was being renovated this spring in anticipation of a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of a 1963 visit by JFK himself.

The New Ross extravaganza was just one of the highlights of this year’s nation-wide Gathering, expected to attract 300,000 visitors to Ireland, among them tens of thousands of Canadians. Roughly 4.8 million Canadians claim Irish roots, or almost 14 per cent of the total population (34.6 million). Many will visit Ireland in search of ancestral connections and, indeed, a desultory quest of my own is what brought me and my wife to New Ross. . . .

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