I’ve known all my life that I was a Flynn — well actually the seventh of nine Flynn’s born to Joe and Betty. But the knowledge of who I am and where I’m from was much deeper and much more meaningful than just my last name.
I was a child of an FOTB (fresh off the boat) Irish immigrant and the great grandchild of Irish immigrants on my mom’s side that came to Canada before Canada was Canada. My relatives came to flee the famine or to find new fortune and opportunity in a far away and very cold new land.
So my Irish heritage was ever present in my household, every day.
But it wasn’t until my first visit to Ireland in 1973 that I truly began to understand what being Irish really meant — the place and culture from where we came. I remember my great uncle, P. John Cahill greeted us upon our arrival in Rathcormac with a warm “welcome home boys”. It was an odd greeting: as a 13-year old I knew that my home was in Kitchener, Ontario which was thousands of kilometers away.
Rathcormac was more my dad’s home than my home but I immediately understood what Uncle P. John was doing by invoking the notion of “home” — this is where ye came from (and oddly, to have found out much later, half of my mother’s family — the Farrell’s — were also from the Rathcormac area). We were in our ancestral home — the place where we were literally from.
And home it has become, with every visit that I have made over the last 45 years I return to Rathcormac. From my first visit in 1998 with my mostly Irish wife (according to her Ancestry DNA, Stephanie is 53% Irish) when P.John’s daughter, Joan Hoskins, repeated her father’s words — “welcome home,” to our 2009 visit with our three children when they too were welcomed home, to my most recent visit in 2016 when I dragged my cousins Joan and her brother Pat and Joe O’Flynn through countless cemeteries looking for the graves of our long-gone relatives.
I’m now preparing for my sixth visit home next week and I think of how fortunate I am to have taken the words of my great uncle to heart. To be able to go home and walk the streets of Rathcormac and County Cork — something that my grandparents (Molly Cahill and Jack Flynn) and my great-grand parents (Farrells, Browns, and Riordan) were never able to do after setting foot in Canada in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.
This trip is a prelude to my much longer stay in Ireland this fall when I will be doing research with both Dublin City University and the Public Relations Institute of Ireland as part of my research leave from McMaster University.