Archive for the ‘Ancestral Roots’ Category

Awhile back I wrote about painting what we know.  “Knowing” doesn’t always mean experiencing first hand.  A person can live in a place, yet not really know or understand it from the inside out.  Conversely, we can read about a locale so intently and intensely that we do indeed “know” it. 

Experience can be shallow, trite, and superficial—while deeply involved reading never is!  Thus we can visit a place for the first time, and feel profoundly “at home”—as if we have always been there.  When Joe and I traveled the back roads of Scotland in a rented car, I was “at home” thanks to a lifetime of hearing and reading about that ancestral land. 

And I know I’ll feel likewise if we ever visit Ireland, pictured above in watercolor ink and rendered from my imagination.  Through ancestral roots* and much reading, Ireland is familiar turf to me.

My Irish-background maternal grandfather, Ambrose Luckey, was the only one of my four grandparents whom I don’t remember.  He died when I was a year old.  But his portrait, along with that of his wife—my Grandma Kate—sits on my piano.  He looks kind, gentle, and a bit melancholy.

Ambrose Luckey was born and raised on a small farm in central Wisconsin where he married my grandmother, Kate Campbell—the daughter of Alexander Campbell, a Congregational preacher in Pine River, Wisconsin.  Their three children, my mother and her two older brothers, were born on that farm.  When Mother was four years old, the family moved to Madison at Grandma Kate’s insistence, so that the children could attend the University of Wisconsin. 

I grew up with the story of how that move to Madison broke Ambrose’s heart.  Although his Irish ancestors had come to America back in the late 1700s, Grandpa Ambrose still had the Irish passion for land. 

Reportedly, Grandpa never did adjust to living on Langdon Street near the busy Madison university.  Grandma Kate kept the family together, by working as a practical nurse and taking in boarders.  I recall childhood visits to the green bungalow where Grandma lived.

I have thought a lot over the years about my unknown Grandfather, and I sense a bond not only from hearing family stories about him but from identification with him.  I understand his temperament, and can imagine his sorrow over losing his beloved lifestyle.

Over the last decade, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Ireland.  Two books stand out among the plethora:  THE GREAT HUNGER, a documentary of the potato famine years, by Cecil Woodham Smith—and THE END OF THE HUNT, a well-documented novel of the years from the 1916 EASTER RISING up to the 1930s and the aftermath of the Irish Free State Treaty with Britain and the subsequent Irish Civil War, by Thomas Flanagan.

Much as I love English literature, English bone china, English films, and many other things British, I have no love for English imperial policies of the past. 

Power corrupts, and every nation has its shame.  I’m ashamed of America’s past treatment of blacks and Native Americans.  Nazi Germany stands at the top of the list of horrors, when it comes to “man’s inhumanity to man”. 

Likewise, 700 years of English domination, exploitation, and abject cruelty to the Irish simply cannot be borne with academic complacency.  Although my Irish ancestors settled in the New World over 200 years ago, and even though they were Protestants from Northern Ireland, my heart and soul are inextricably bound to the Irish people—northern and southern!  

I’m eternally thankful that our early Americans had the good sense to dump that tea into Boston Harbor!  And someday I hope to experience the familiar turf of Ireland.  Meanwhile, I’m painting what I know!

*How we need to know our ancestral roots!  Wisconsin natives know where they came from.  In our state, it’s common to hear people say they are Irish, Polish, German, Swedish, Czech, Welsh, or whatever.  This is one of the many reasons I love Wisconsin!

©Margaret L. Been

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