Beyond Walking in Their Footsteps: Tips for Visiting the Homeland of Your Ancestors

The following is a guest post by professional genealogist Terri O’Connell.

Thank you, Terri, for sharing your story and advice with us!


Caption: Irish Flag, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland (Photo courtesy of Terri O’Connell)

Visiting the homeland of your ancestors is much more than walking in the footsteps of those that came before us. Yes, the walk is an important part that should not be missed. But, it is important to really discover the home of your ancestors. For me, that meant putting time into visiting as much of the country as possible; visiting the pubs eating food local to Ireland and making sure to try a bit of Guinness.

When it came to planning this trip, which was supposed to be my once in a life time trip, I spent months. I queried my friends on what was the most important to see and then I did a lot of google searches to look into each friends recommendation. From there I came up with my list of places to visit. 44 different places, all across Ireland; From Northern Ireland, to the Republic. We  decided that instead of moving to a different place to stay every day or two, we would stay in a three locations and day trip out from each of them. It gave us a better feel for each of the areas we stayed in.


Caption: Terri O’Connell in front of Torc Falls, Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. © Terri O’Connell

It was important to visit the historical places to get a sense of the different times in Ireland. I wanted to see things that I know my ancestors would have looked at. Near the area they lived was the Kanturk Castle. Though it now lies in ruins, there are signs that tell you about the castle and we were able to walk the grounds, take pictures and learn more about it.

We also visited places that would shed light on what life was like during my ancestors time in Ireland. One place was the Jeanie Johnston <>, a replica famine ship, on the River Liffey, in Dublin. Though this ship made many trips with not one death on board, it was good to spend time walking through the ship to see what conditions were like when my ancestors emigrated to the US.

Visiting the pubs was fun, though I do not think we ever made it to one when there was live music. We got to sample the foods that Ireland is known for; fish and chips or maybe shephards pie is more to your liking. Don’t forget the potatoes, I think we had potatoes with every meal (I did get a kick out of the fact that bags of potatoes are sold at the petrol [gas] station).

I was told by many that I would need to tip back a pint of Guinness to honor my Irish ancestors. This was not something on my list, at all. I had no interest in that or visiting the Guinness factory. However, at the end of our trip we happened upon Brazen Head. The oldest pub in Ireland, dating back to 1198. We decided to have lunch here, just because it is the oldest pub. With that lunch we ordered a pint of Guinness. Though I did not have my own, I did take a drink to honor my ancestors. Without them I would not be here and I would never have had such an amazing journey to visit their homeland.


Caption: Brazen Head Pub, Dublin, Ireland. © Terri O’Connell

I would also recommend that anyone planning a trip to visit their ancestors homeland try to find an event that celebrates the history of the land. For us, it was the Samhain celebration <> in Athboy, County Meath. Though we live in a Christian world today, it was very exciting to attend a pagan celebration that focused on our ancestors and the history of the land.

These trips are once in a lifetime. Yes, we might decide to visit again. But, it will never be the first visit again or the visit that was meant to immerse yourself in your families homeland.


Terri O’Connell is a Professional Genealogist <> and the Executive Director of The In-Depth Genealogist <>. For more information on her see For more on her travels to Ireland see <>

Copyright 2016, Terri O’Connell for Immersion Genealogy, All Rights Reserved


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