“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met”
I thought this quote was appropriate so I checked on Google and was interested to see that it was written by the famous Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.
The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis was the venue for our gathering and this attracted 170 of us, many of whom had come for the first time. It is always interesting to meet the people behind the emails. I have met many of the clan before and I have been speaking to a few of them on Facebook prior to my visit.
After we had registered in the Banner Room and received our packs containing our name badges, hand made tiles and our own 9th O Dea Clan Gathering handy backpacks, we made our way to Waterpark House which was full to the brim with all of our clan members. For many it was standing room only. We listened to a welcome speech by James Breen, an independent councillor for the newly formed Ennis Municipal District Council. We also had short speeches by Shane O’Dea our chairman and James O’Dea, historian, tour guide and former chairman. Thanks were given and flowers were presented to Mary Coote Ryan who served Ennis as a councillor and Mayoress until the Ennis Town Council was dissolved and in May2014, was replaced by the newly inaugurated Ennis Municipal District Council.
Back at The Old Ground, Tony Harpur gave us a very insightful history of Bishop Cornelius O’Dea of Limerick and described his bejewelled medieval mitre and crozier. These miraculously survived over the centuries while so many other treasures were plundered and destroyed. The magnificent and beautifully preserved mitre and crozier are on display in the Hunt Museum in Limerick where Tony was a one time voluntary guide. This fascinating talk was followed by Irish Dancing, traditional music and refreshments.
For those with any energy left, John O’Dea’s pub was open for business with Guinness and Smithwicks on tap, as well as a whiskey or two, just for the craic.
An early start on Saturday for a full Irish Breakfast at the Old Ground Hotel and the traditional visit to Dysert O’Dea Castle, our ancestral home. First of all, we gathered for our group photograph at the castle and waited for Martin Breen to position himself on the stepladder to get us all in. James O’Dea thanked Bill Dea from Iowa, USA for his last three years as our chieftain and proceeded with the inauguration of Maureen Carey from South Australia. Sue Poole presented Maureen with a beautiful handmade jacket designed by Marilyn Bull of Adelaide and a shawl supplied by Kathleen Moran of The Design Centre in Kilkenny. Bill Dea handed over the leather crown with the O’Dea crest.
Once the ceremony was over, we were split into three groups. The first group went with Risteard Ua Cronin (Dick Cronin) , historian and author of Story of a Rebel Clan, to visit St. Tola’s Cross and church ruins dating back to 12th century, the round tower and the graveyard containing the well preserved tomb of Edward Synge who restored the tower in the 1850’s. The second group visited the 6 rooms in the castle and watched a short but very informative DVD about the history of Dysart O’Dea and St. Tola’s which filled most of the gaps I had somehow missed on previous visits. More information can be found on http://www.dysertcastle.com/ and Wikipedia. The third group stayed in the castle to drink Irish Coffee and eat smoked salmon on fresh soda bread. The groups rotated so that we all got the opportunity to see and taste everything.
After making our way back to the Old Ground a few of us stayed in the Banner Room for the clan’s Triennial General Meeting. Those less interested in clan affairs went on the walking tour of Ennis. By an overwhelming majority it was agreed that the next clan gathering should coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Dysert O’Dea which will be on 10th May, 2018 which meant that some of the constitution has to be reworded. We learnt that Sue Poole is to be an honorary life clan member. The clan representatives are to remain the same for the next four years. There are plans for the USA to host their own Clan Gathering at Buffalo/ Niagara Falls in 2016. I hope very much that I will be there with my family.
The half a dozen or so that went on the walking tour said it was very interesting and they learnt some interesting facts about the town of Ennis including the origin of the word “boycott” and the wall paintings around the town.
We had a couple of hours to spare which some of us used to top up our glasses before getting ready for our medieval feast at Bunratty. Tickets sold quickly and this was well attended by 140 of our group.
While most of us enjoyed the feast at Bunratty, our own family decided to visit Fanny O’Dea’s in Lisseycasey. It is the oldest family run pub in Ireland, established 1790. It is a lively pub with regular live music.
On Sunday morning, we celebrated the clan mass at the Ennis cathedral . Thereafter, most went to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands, which we did last time. The rest of us went to Limerick which was a replacement for the original plan of Dolphin Watching on the Shannon Estuary which had to be cancelled.
We were disappointed to learn that our trip to watch the dolphins was cancelled because of the low ebb tide and unfavourable winds. However, this was replaced by a fascinating visit to Craggaunowen and Limerick. Craggaunowen is a reconstruction of different eras of ancient Ireland. The guide who took us round was excellent and told us all about the 16th century castle, the Ringforts of 5th-12th centuries and the Crannogs, built on artificial islands on lakes to protect them from their enemies. We walked through the woodland to see St. Brendan’s boat made of leather which may have got to America centuries before Columbus. In 1976, Tim Severin proved it was possible by reconstructing Brendan’s boat and sailing across the Atlantic. The boat that he used for his experiment is on display at Craggaunowen. There is a woodland walk and enclosures with sheep, pigs and goats . This is a really lovely family day out that even the smallest of children would love. Even the rain didn’t dampen our spirits and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Our next stop was King John’s Castle in Limerick. This has just reopened after refurbishment and modernisation. I enjoyed my visit last time but they have done such a wonderful job, improving the castle and museum to bring it back to life. There are interactive displays, soldiers that tell you what life was like in Medieval Ireland and the odd touch of humour here and there to keep it interesting. Lifts have been installed so that most of the museum and the café are accessible to the elderly and disabled.
The Hunt Museum was a short walk away where we saw the wonderful medieval ecclesiastical O Dea Mitre and Crozier in a new light. We came to appreciate the intricate design that was described so eloquently by Tony Harpur in his lecture on Friday night. There were other interesting exhibits and artworks in the Hunt Museum. The museum shop had some lovely artefacts and jewellery on sale at reasonable prices.
The sun shone for the Inisheer group and they had a beautiful afternoon and even spotted some dolphins. They sailed round the bottom of the Cliffs of Moher which thousands of puffins have made their home. We did this outing in 2011 and it really is a unique and wonderful experience.
After a tiring day we got ready for our farewell dinner. The weekend had passed so quickly, it was now time to say goodbye to all our clansmen and women from far and wide. Our 4-course dinner was lovely and ended with a plate of delicious desserts. Finally, we had to elect the new clan chieftain for 2018. The nominees were Shane and James O’Dea, Pat Honeywell and Joan Koechig. Shane and James declined, so the voting was between Pat and Joan. Joan Koechig won out in the voting and will become our new chieftain in 2018.
We owe our gratitude to Shane, James and Noreen, Bill and Sondra Dea, Sue and David Poole, Ruth and Tom O’Dea, Martin Breen, Dick Cronin and Breda Considine at the castle and the Old Ground Hotel, for a very well organised and successful weekend. My apologies to anyone that I have forgotten to mention. Finally, we congratulate and wish Maureen Carey, our new O’Dea Clan Chieftain, all of the very best for her term of office as chieftain for 2014-2018.