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This must be the place

art garretI had never seen the color green like that before.

Touching down at the Shannon Airport in southwest Ireland, the lush, vibrant green landscape of my ancestors took my breath away. It was August 2005, and I was about to embark on a collegiate semester abroad.  


With five other students from my school, Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Conn.), our group stayed at a boarding house in Tralee, a gateway city to the majestic Dingle Peninsula on the Ring of Kerry. Our host was a former Oxford University professor who expected us to be as studious in the classroom as in the local pub.

Wandering the countryside and bustling cities of Ireland, he took us to innumerable spots, many of which were off the beaten path. I found myself sitting in a 1,000-year-old church, bellying up to a back alley bar with a pint of Guinness as sweet as candy, going for a swim in the crisp Atlantic Ocean and, most of all, meeting one incredible person after another. I felt a true kinship. For the first time in my life, I really felt at home.

When I was born, I was named after the first male in our family to emigrate from Ireland. My middle name comes from mother’s maiden name, which is Kavanagh. Growing up, my Irish heritage was always present, with Celtic music, food, attire and attitude found in every aspect of our family. I have always been proud of that. Those memories are forever cherished, whether it be sipping some Jameson whiskey with my uncles, learning and singing the native songs at a family gathering, or simply just being a happy-go-lucky person by nature (which is the foundation of any good Irishman).

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So, as I frolicked around the motherland during that semester abroad, I became immersed in learning all I could about the origins of my ancestors. It was a surreal experience, one that still resonates strongly. Who I was when I left for Ireland wasn’t who I was when I returned home, and it was all for the better. 

While writing my feature this week on the Scottish Tartans Museum and the Taste of Scotland festival in Franklin, rich memories of my Irish odyssey came flooding back into my field of vision. Local residents and tourists alike should experience the fascinating culture of Scotland, a country that played a vital role in the history of Western North Carolina. Everyone should not only visit the country of their ancestry but also embrace their heritage year round. Pride in family is an important trait of Southern Appalachia. Knowing who you are and where you came from is the key to knowing where you’re at and where you’re going.



Hot picks

1 The 38th Annual Cherokee Pow Wow runs from June 14-16 at the Acqouni Expo Center.

2 Bluegrass ensemble Unspoken Tradition plays the Concerts on the Creek on June 14 at Bridge Park in Sylva.

3 A panel discussion about recent discoveries and observations relating to Horace Kephart will take place on June 13 in the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University.

4 The Songwriters in the Round series continues at Balsam Mountain Inn with Kim Richey, Irene Kelley and Thomm Jutz on June 15.

5 The “Sampling of the City” P.A.W.S fundraiser will be at Nantahala Brewing Company on June 15.

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