BootsnAll Travel Network

Ireland – Home is where the Hogans are

Way back in 1850, a bloke by the name of Michael Hogan, my Great Great Grandfather, emigrated from Ireland to Australia. An only child, he left behind in Ireland a father and a few uncles. Although his father didn’t follow the normal Catholic tradition of creating an entire army of kids, his uncles and their wives didn’t hold back, and Michael left behind a whole stack of cousins.

Now, in 2005, 155 years later, Irish descendents of Michael’s cousins were holding a Hogan family reunion, down in County Clare, on Ireland’s west coast. Somehow, through my Uncle Whip back home in Australia, I was able to score an invite to this little shindig. A distant cousin from Australia, here to meet his long lost ancestors.

The generous Irish hospitality started early on the Friday afternoon, as Liz, the organiser of the event, picked up Bec and I from Shannon airport and delivered us to the hotel hosting the reunion in the small, but far from sleepy, town of Ennistymon, just 10 minutes drive from the famous Cliffs of Moher.

Having checked in to the lavish hotel, we began a driving tour of the area, beginning by paying a visit to Liz’s uncle, Dermott Hogan, who lived in a nursing home in nearby Enis and was apparently keen to meet us. Unbeknownst to Liz, old uncle Dermott was expecting far more than just a visit. The 80 year old was dressed in his Sunday best shirt and tie, and was coming with us on our little tour. More than that, he was going to run the bloody tour. He took the navigator’s seat, and directed Liz to various significant places around the area.

Dermott’s 80 years had not been kind to his body. Years as a champion Gaelic footballer back in the heyday of County Clare had taken their toll. As we drove around the Burren, the archaeological wonder of rock formations in the area, he didn’t say much, and what was spoken was indecipherable to these ears; a combination of his Irish accent and a throaty, hoarse voice, seemingly the result of years of smoking. His yellow fingers said as much. But one sensed that just having us there was enough for him. Sometimes old men like Dermott don’t have to speak. Their story his told by the creases at the corners of their eyes, the gleam in their eye, and the smile that fights past faltering facial muscles.

So we drove. Past crumbling castles, through small fishing villages, and past fields of endless green; the bold colour broken only by centuries-old stone fences. And on, to the Cliffs of Moher. Draped in a heavy mist, waves crashing far below, sea birds singing their melancholy songs, it was a brilliant site. We returned to the car where Dermott had been waiting, stationed in a car park that carried with it a 4 Euro fee upon exit. We gave Liz the coins to pay; it was the least we could do. We approached the gates to find the boom on the entrance side pointing to the sky, with no cars entering.

“Looks like they don’t want us to pay”, quipped Liz, and zipped through on the wrong side of the road, handing us back our money, and leaving a bemused parking attendant smiling in his booth.

Yep, these were my people.

We were taken to meet Rita Hegarty (nee Hogan), who, at the sprightly old age of 92, still lives on the farm first purchased by Hogans back in the early 1800’s. When I walked into the old farmhouse kitchen, her eyes lit up, and as she grabbed my hand in both of hers, she proclaimed with certainty,

“I’ve met you before!”

“And who’s this?” she prodded, eyeing Bec behind me.

“This is Rebecca, Blue’s girlfriend,” informed Liz.

Rita turned to Liz, a look of mock shock on her face.

“Oh! He’s too young to have a girlfriend!”

Age hadn’t wearied her cheekiness. She had a face full of life, with big rounded cheeks that would not stop twitching, but through which a little smile seemed ever present.

After our tour, Bec and I ventured into Ennistymon to seek out a pint and some food. We spotted a local pub just up the road, and made our way there. Being the chivalrous fella that I am, I kindly opened the door for Bec, and let her enter first. Sometimes, though, a bloke’s just got to take the lead. This, folks, was one of those times.

The bar had been bubbling with noise and chatter, the laughter of Friday night drinks pouring out the door. Upon Bec’s entry though, all noise stopped. Heads turned. It was like the new cowboy in town had just entered the saloon doors – the old piano man stops, and cigarettes fall from mouths as one oblivious guy dramatically plops down his ace to take the hand.

Of the 30 or so patrons inside, the number of females we counted was zero. There was one member of staff behind the bar, a young girl who somehow had to keep all these blokes in check. She served us a couple of pints, and we grabbed a seat in the corner, as the stares slowly dissipated and the chatter started back up. Soon though, we were being offered some chips from a nearby table, and were greeted with smiles all round. The Irish hospitality was continuing to win us over.

Back at the hotel bar that night over a few more pints of Guinness, Liz introduced Bec and I to all of her relatives. As she did, it became clear that meeting this Aussie bloke had been eagerly awaited. The phrase “Ahhh, so you’re the famous Blue Hogan. Great to meet yer” was heard to be uttered on many an occasion. Now if you don’t think that sounds like it’d make your day, try saying it again, but this time put on the best darn Irish accent you can muster, and replace my name with your own. See, brilliant.

This friendly greeting was generally followed with the explanation for why I was called Blue, given that my real name was David. Half of you out there are probably scratching your heads right now, wondering what the hell I’m on about. Well, this isn’t the easiest thing to explain, but I’ll do my best. Just don’t expect it to make any sense. A peculiarly Australian trait, almost all redheaded Aussie kids are called Blue, or Bluey. It’s a bit like calling a great big bloke Tiny.

One of the younger brigade at the reunion probably got it best. A family of 6 gorgeous little girls, all aged under 9, they treated me like some kind of celebrity. I bumped into them and their cousin Jennifer outside the Hotel the next afternoon.

“Why do you think he’s called Blue?” asked Jennifer

“Because he’s wearing a blue jacket”, replied one of the older girls. Quite obvious, really. If only I could explain it that simply. Little Sarah, maybe two or three years old, then boldly walked up, and without saying a word, stuck out her hand for me to shake. Folks, you can do you nought but smile.

That night, as the Hogan clan once again took over the hotel bar, the guitars were brought out, and a good old Irish sing-along began. There’s something about the Irish accent that lends itself to singing, in the same way that the Australian accent does not. Although, that did not stop them from coaxing ol’ Dave here up for a rendition of Waltzing Matilda. I think one verse was more than enough.

Later, we listened as Thomas Hogan, at a guess a man in his early fifties, sang The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Accompanied by the faintest pluck of the guitar string, and the silence of a packed hotel bar, his Irish voice floated among us, and as we all joined in the last verse, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a tear in my eye. Read the lyrics below, and you may just get an idea of why.

When I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915 my country said: Son,
It’s time to stop rambling, there’s work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When the ship pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

It well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was ready, he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets, and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat, we were all blown to hell
He nearly blew us back home to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
Well we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Oh those that were living just tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
I never knew there was worse things than dying

Oh no more I’ll go Waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
When they carried us down the gangway
Oh nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

Now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn
Those weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, their numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
So who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

But the mood was quickly back to celebration as the pints flowed all round. 92-year-old Rita, as you’d expect, was the first to call it a night. What you would not expect is that she wouldn’t do so until 2.30am. But this was Ireland. And these were the Hogans.

Having no booked accommodation for the Sunday night, but not flying back to Scotland until Monday, we were kindly offered a place to stay by one of the many cousins, even though we’d only met a few hours earlier. And so we spent Sunday afternoon with Stuart, his wife Trish, and their kids Adam and Chloe, aged 2 and 1. On the telly was the Irish national sport of Hurling – absolutely the most crazy sport I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard people say that Australian Rules Football is a madman’s sport, but it surely has nothing on this crazed bunch of Irish running around with giant hockey sticks belting the hell out of each other, only to shake hands at the end of the game, and return to their normal lives on the farms, and in the shops, and at the pub, the next day. We watched the All Ireland quarter finals over a couple of beers, and then fired up the barbie to cook a few snags and hamburgers. Despite the tenuous link between us – Stuart and I sharing a Great Great Great Great Grandfather – there was no doubt that we were related. He kindly drove us to the airport early the next morning, a two-hour round trip, and we were gone. Back to Scotland.

The Irish hospitality is famous for a reason, and Bec and I were lucky enough to find out for ourselves. We will be back there again someday. Of that I have no doubt.

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9 Responses to “Ireland – Home is where the Hogans are”

  1. Mark Hogan Says:

    Great work mate, made me wish I could have been there.

    Talk soon,

  2. Posted from Australia Australia
  3. Tony Hogan Says:

    Well Blue I think there a few of us that knew we should have got there for the weekend but was great to hear all about it from you.

    I believe both Dermott and Tommy senior were brilliant sportsmen in their time.

    Thomas’s version of the Band Played Waltzing Matilda must have been brilliant and bought a tear to my eye too, there is a version done by the Pogues on their “Best of” Album which is well worth a listen.

    Looks like you may have plenty of stayover options for travel thru Ireland and all I have to do is recolor my hair back to somewhere near your’s and call myself Blue and I’ll be right over there too.

  4. Posted from Australia Australia
  5. Uncle Whip Says:

    Great news coverage of reunion. Felt like I was there.
    I have a copy of Annemarie’s dad’s book”The Light of other Days in Kilfenora” by Tommy Hogan and both he and Dermott played in the 1941 County Clare Kilfenora Senior Championship win. Not a bad effort for a place the size of Kilfenora. Looking forward to the photos!

  6. Posted from Australia Australia
  7. Deana Says:

    Like the others I have tears in my eyes and wish I could have been there with dad
    I know grandma will love reading this. So glad you had a terriffic time and had the
    opportunity to meet to meet some great relativies. As you said after all we are Hogans.

  8. Posted from Australia Australia
  9. Liz Hogan-Ui hUigin Says:

    That’s lovely. It’s great to know you really enjoyed the weekend. My brother-in-law, Joe Lally wants to make it an annual event but we;ll see. Maybe we could have a sort of drop in event every two years or so. I loved your discription of the mists swirling around the cliffs of Moher. I would also like to say that I thought the hotel were brilliant to us. Imagine sending sandwiches to we revellers at four a.m. instead of trying to get us to go to bed. Clare peole are really steeped in music. Love to Rebecca.

  10. Posted from Ireland Ireland
  11. Marg Hogan (that was !!) Says:

    Hindsight is a wonderful gift as they say. How I wish I had made more effort & been trhere too @ such a great celebration. Thanks for your great up date, you did it proud. Marg

  12. Posted from Australia Australia
  13. admin Says:

    Well, Liz, we’ll be back again next year, so you can be sure we’ll be dropping in. Might catch up with you in Vietnam before then though – depends when we get there.

  14. Posted from Croatia Croatia
  15. mercatoris margaret Says:

    enjoyed reading your story, i am from kilfenora area now living in the us , know the hogan family from kilfenora and clogher

  16. admin Says:

    Hi Margaret, glad you liked the story. Meeting long lost relatives in another country was something I never thought I’d get the chance to do, and that weekend in Ireland is still one of the highlights of the year Bec and I spent abroad.

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