Coddiwomple is a word recently added to my lexicon. It best describes the process by which I found the land farmed by my Irish ancestors. Coddiwomple is an English slang meaning to travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. Gratitude and emotion fill me when I reflect on the kindness of strangers who helped me to that end.
A few years ago, I discovered accounts of my Irish ancestral history online. Thanks to digitized portions of a book written by my late cousin. I learned that my fourth generation grandparents haled from Cootehill, a village in County Cavan. They’d been tenant farmers on an estate belonging to the Clements family.
While perusing images for my Oh the Irish Pinterest board, I saw a photograph of the stately Clements Estate. I left a message for the lady who’d pinned the image explaining my interest in the photo. She promptly responded and forwarded website links, and vacation photos from her recent visit there.
Life pulled me away from ancestry research for many months, but the intrigue of the Lindsay’s story never left me. As I worked on my novel, The Last Hoffman, I often wondered what it had been like for them to arrive in the mayhem of Bytown, Upper Canada, in 1830. My imagination continued to build a narrative based on what-if’s that inspired my short story, Pearl Earbobs, which placed in a competition and was subsequently published in an anthology.
In September of 2016, my husband and I traveled to Ireland. We looked forward to experiencing the country, and also to visiting dear friends in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Having decided on an Irish influence in my next novel, I was especially keen on getting a sense of Lindsays’ homeland.
I’m an advocate of coddiwompling and a believer in synchronicity. The universe often yields its surprises in ways I don’t anticipate and, most certainly, could never orchestrate. So when I headed off to Ireland with my genealogy notes scribed on sheets of art paper and rolled up in a suitcase, I trusted that somehow, the fates would guide me to something wonderful. They did not disappoint.
During our Dublin stay, we rented an apartment. In a conversation with the landlord, I mentioned our plans to visit Cootehill, County Cavan, in search of the Ashfield Estate and information about the Lindsays. As fate would have it, the landlord, a designer of museum and gallery displays, was well versed in the offerings of her city. She recommended that I consult the genealogy department at the National Library of Ireland.
The National Library of Ireland is worth visiting if only to enjoy the architecture and to breath in the history. As anyone who’s ever researched Irish ancestry attest, information is difficult to come by. I was paired with a genealogist who was very generous with her time and turned up information about the marriage of my fourth great grandfather’s sister. I learned about various resources, one of them being the Spinning Wheel Premium List. Simply put, the Irish were offered free spinning wheels as an incentive to grow flax. My fifth great-grandfather was a weaver so this is a lead I’ll follow up on.
Upon arriving in Cootehill, we stopped for lunch at a little diner next to the town square. Before leaving home, I’d searched online for the location of the Ashfield Estate to no avail. People we spoke to in the diner weren’t familiar with the estate name. This left us discouraged. But after our meal, we stepped outside and to our delight, a truck pulled up to the diner. “Excuse me sir, I’m looking for the Ashfield Estate,” I called out. He explained that he lives on the estate. The main house had been torn down years ago, but he operates a sawmill on the site of the original estate sawmill and his mother live in the original groundskeeper’s house.
His directions took us along a narrow dirt road to the Ashfield Parish and rectory, both of which I recognized from my online searches. The Lindsay name appeared on one headstone at the parish cemetery. As we wandered the grounds, a British woman approached me to ask what I was looking for. When she learned the purpose of my visit, she recommended that I speak with the church caretaker who lived nearby. The woman and her husband led us to the caretaker’s home, just up the road.
Moments later, my husband and I were knocking at the caretaker’s door. The caretaker, gracious lady, welcomed us into her home and poured through her church records in search of details that might interest us. Parish records yielded the names of several Lindsays. The lady even recalled details of a pathway that, in her youth, school children referred to as the Lindsay’s Trail.
The night before departing Cootehill, I looked at the National Library of Ireland website in a last-ditch effort to find details where my ancestors had lived. Luck was on my side! I discovered a survey of the Ashfield Estate, dated April 6, 1806. “Surveyed and Divided into Two Equal parts that Farm of Land in the Townland of Corballyquill is held Jointly between John Whitely and John Lindsay and I find each part contains as follows…”
At breakfast the next morning, I asked the server if she knew the location of Townland of Corballyquill. She did not, but the mail carrier had just arrived and would probably know. Moments later, the mail carrier arrived at our table and I repeated the story. Her colleague makes deliveries to Corballyquill so she called him for directions. She returned to us with the important details and a gentle warning that we shouldn’t expect to see a house marking the exact spot. All those years ago, the people lived in squalor and the house would no longer exist. With a quickly jotted map, my husband and I set out to find the land on which my ancestors had been tenant farmers.
We followed the map to rolling hills separated by a narrow road until we arrived at the land the Lindsays had once farmed. I was soon standing on ground tread upon by my ancestors and seeing the very places they’d looked a every day. The feeling of joy and connection will never leave me. Many thanks to the helpful souls who set me on my way.