As St. Patrick’s Day comes around again, I think about the Irish and their beautiful country. Half my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, is set in Ireland, from Galway to Donegal to be specific.
Years back, my husband and I spent a month touring around the country, starting in Dublin and ending in Port Stewart and Belfast, where I had first cousins I’d never met.
My Irish Relatives
My dad’s youngest brother, John Klewchuk, had joined the Canadian air force in WWII. He was stationed in Northern Ireland, where he met an Irish lass he couldn’t leave behind. He married her and had three boys, whom now have children of their own. It was lovely meeting them. They have all the charm and humour you associate with the Irish, even with their Ukrainian blood (their father’s side).
And Irishman With A Ukrainian Name
One thing that always puzzled me was how my Uncle John had managed to keep his Ukrainian surname in Ireland without facing any discrimination. His older brothers, George and Bill, who also fought in WWII, had changed their name to Kendall while in the army. In the 1940s, there was still a lot of prejudice against Slavic people and they had felt the sting of that in their youth. Being bright and ambitious, they quickly found they’d have to change their name if they wanted to rise in the ranks. And so they did.
My father, on the other hand, being the eldest and already a family man, did not get a chance to serve, although he would’ve liked the opportunity. He kept the Ukrainian surname, Klewchuk, which my dad said meant blacksmith in the old country. But since “klewch” means key in Ukrainian, I’m still wondering if he got that wrong. Maybe my family came from those who were locksmiths.
When I asked my eldest Irish cousin, Ronnie, how his father had managed to keep a name like Klewchuk in Northern Ireland without being taunted, he said, “Whenever anyone asked my father about his name, he told them it was Canadian.” I got a good chuckle out of that one.
Reminds me of a Shakespeare line, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Below are my wonderful cousins entertaining Robert and I during our visit.
The Irish and the Ukrainians Have Much In Common
My husband and I both fell in love with Ireland and the Irish when we were there. I found their
history not that different from that of my Ukrainian ancestors. They both were underdogs in much of the last few centuries of history. The Irish fought the English, who thought they were superior; the Ukrainians fought the Russians, who thought they were superior.
Perhaps the battles fuelled the countrymen’s passions and inspired them to write. There are wonderful poets and writers in both countries. Ireland gave us James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and William Butler Yeats.
Ukraine gave us the poets and writers, Taras Shevchenko, Lesia Ukrainka, Ivan Franko and Nikolai Gogol. Did you know that Chekhov’s mother was also Ukrainian?
Both the Irish and Ukrainians are great farmers, potato and wheat respectively. In fact, with farm after farm of swaying golden grain, Ukraine is known as the bread basket of Europe. The Irish have their wonderful exuberant dances like jigs, as well as their melancholy songs. The Ukrainians kick up their heels with their lively kolomaykas and play soulful music on banduras.
And like the Ukrainians, the Irish have a history of being deeply religious folk and given to superstition. Is it any wonder then that my heart was drawn to the beautiful land of Ireland and its people?
A Traveller’s Delight
Our photos of the emerald isle helped me write The Cry From The Deep. We hope to return to this fabulous land.
One reader told me that my novel should be on display at the Irish Tourist Bureaus, as my description of the landscape would entice other travellers to visit.
Happy travels and a shout-out to old St. Patrick and all those celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
Thank you for any thoughts. Comments are always welcome.