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Playing tourist at home: rediscovering my backyard, Kings County, Nova Scotia

 

The Hidden Gems Tour of Kings County, Nova Scotia, presented by the County of Kings is a brilliant way to spend a day. It shows the value and joy of playing tourist at home.

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The public beach at Aylesford Lake. (Allan Lynch Photo)

My family has lived here since 1765 and yet I learned so much about my backyard that I never knew. There were things I had taken for granted. And places that, if I have been to, it was so long ago I’ve forgotten.

The tour covered the history of the county, the agriculture sector, the military, the environment and ecology mixed with the post-card beauty of the shore, Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin, the farmlands, the view points and peaceful back roads. We discovered rapids and waterfalls that provided the energy to power a massive lumber operation and which have left us a neat park.DSCN8803

And we were treated to a stunning lunch of killer homemade seafood chowder, sandwiches and carrot cake at the Morden Community Centre. After lunch we saw some terrific local crafts: beach-stone paintings, driftwood trees, hooked trivets, shore maple syrup.

I was reminded that on the last weekend of the month the community hall hosts a breakfast that can have as many as 400 people turn out!

I can’t remember when I was last in Morden, but what a neat community – and you get the feel that it is a real community.

 

What we covered in six hours would probably take days of discovery if we did it on our own. And there’s nothing wrong with that given what a delicious place this is.

I am now armed with ideas to power longer, lingering revisits to places and to share with family, friends and readers.

I wrote a travel guide to Nova Scotia for Nova Scotians (The Nova Scotia Book of MUSTS, The 101 Places Every Nova Scotian MUST See). I thought I knew the place well. The County of Kings’ Hidden Gems tour has reinvigorated my interest – and pride – in this place. It’s why 252 years later my family is still here.

There are two more tours planned for the summer. Contact the County and book a space. If there are no spaces left, ask if to go on a waiting list. Perhaps if the list was long enough more tours would be added. Failing that, ask the county for a map and do it yourself. Take someone you love with you – this place is too good not to share. It puts a smile on faces.

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Kings County is a smile-inducing place. (Allan Lynch Photo)

This #ExperienceKingsNS tour could be the model for a cool sesquicentennial project for all Canadians to (re)discover the wonders in their/our backyards.

 

 

A Pilgrimage of Remembrance as Performance Art

Leaving Aldershot.

Jessica Lynn Wiebe is an artist participating in this year’s Uncommon Art. She is also a veteran, who has completed two tours in Afghanistan.

Thursday May 25th Wiebe and a group of supporters set out from Camp Aldershot in the North End of Kentville to walk to the Acadia University War Memorial. Wiebe who is also an Acadia alumni felt too many memorials become invisible. So, around the two war memorials outside the old gym she is installing two walls of sandbags. One for each world war. On her 14k walk from the base to the university she is carrying a cement sandbag. The weight and the walk are what WWII recruits were required to carry and travel.

In front of my grandfather’s house.

Walking down Gallows Hill towards the DAR Station.

I photographed Wiebe outside the house my grandfather built on the top of Gallows Hill in Kentville. In July 1940 my father crossed this verandah and the single polished stone slab that is the short front walk. He walked down Gallows Hill, across the bridge over the Cornwallis River to the DAR train station just beyond. It was a walk he knew well. My grandfather and father were both railway men. For years it was their walk to work. On that July day his work was different. Instead of walking to the round house, he boarded the train for the journey to Petawawa for training. From there he went to England. He eventually fought his way up the boot of Italy as part of the Italian Campaign, then across France to Belgium, participated in the liberation of The Netherlands and into Germany for the victory.

In Petawawa before being shipped overseas for six years of service.

We were fortunate he returned to the house on the hill in time for Christmas 1945.

 

You can read about Wiebe’s project here:

https://www.jessicalynnwiebe.com

 

 

 

In northern Netherlands with a war prize.

Celebrating liberation

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The Canada tulip developed by the Dutch to honour Canada’s sesquicentennial.

I first went to Amsterdam as a young man with no motivation other than vacation time and a seat sale. Knowing nothing of the place I remember sitting on a tram, the prerequisite Canadian flag on my small kit bag drawing the attention of elderly woman, who pointed and said, “KaNAda?” I didn’t understand why my yes made her so happy.

The Rijksmuseum in winter has a skating rink outside. (Allan Lynch Photo)

“You want to see Rijksmuseum?” She joyfully asked. I didn’t know what it was, but I had no plans, why not? Energized, she grabbed my arm and off we went into this ornate massive red brick building. We whizzed through gallery after gallery, with a choir of guards yelling at us as she attempted to sit on furniture, open chests, touch the Delft. Having covered acres of galleries she said, “You want to see Nard Vark?” That’s what it sounded like. She meant Rembrandt’s masterpiece de Nachtwacht (The Night Watch), which curiously had been attacked two years before and placed behind protective glass. When she reached behind the glass to pat the painting the guards had had enough and escorted us out of the museum. It was the first time I’d ever been thrown out of a place. All the while she kept pointing to me, saying “KaNAda!” and expressing her outrage that rules weren’t bent for a Canadian.

A star attraction is Rembrandt’s Night Watch. (Allan Lynch Photo)

In December, three decades after this experience, I returned to The Netherlands. This time I had a purpose. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of The Netherlands by the Canadian army (Lieutenant General Charles Foulkes accepted the German surrender on May 5th, 1945), I was on a type of personal pilgrimage to see some of the places important to us.

My father was part of the liberation, though like most Canadian Vets, he never spoke of the war other than to tell me about running out of money on a pub crawl in England and, rather than sleep rough, asking the sheriff in Nottingham for a jail cell for the night. All that is left now is a small black and white photo of him and some of his comrades holding a captured German naval flag and a thank you medal awarded posthumously. With no one left to answer my questions I felt the need to return to The Netherlands.

My tightly packed itinerary allowed a night in Apeldoorn, two nights in Arnhem and three in Amsterdam.

The Netherlands are a dream destination to travel around because the country is so compact, and public transportation so well-organized and inexpensive. You can cover a great deal of the country without resorting to a rental car. After a night flight from Montreal I landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, purchased a modestly priced train ticket (€16.20 / $22.84) to Apeldoorn and strolled on to a train at the airport’s lower level rail station and 90 minutes later was at my hotel.

Apeldoorn is considered ‘a Queen city’ because it’s where the royal family enjoyed the tranquility of the vast Palace Het Loo, surrounded by parks and formal gardens one expects of royal accommodation. Now a museum, during the war the palace was used by the Germans as a military hospital and later as Allied headquarters.

The Dutch always remember Canada and Canadians. (Allan Lynch Photo)

In Apeldoorn I met Jan Koorenhof, who helps organize thank you events every five years for Canadian vets. Koorenhof told me they picked a particular street for the parade because it was wide enough to allow participants to march seven-abreast. However, when the Canadian Vets appeared the crowds were so thick, so appreciative, so anxious to hug, kiss and thank their liberators that the parade was reduced to single file.

I’ve often heard Canadian vets comment about their treatment at Apeldoorn and how endlessly free food and drink flows. The winter of 1944-45 had been so harsh that thousands of Dutch died of starvation. Then, in April 1945, before the liberation, Canada allocated 750 trucks to drive in convoys delivering 300 tons of food a day to the people. Koorenhof explains the local attitude is, “They fed us then, we feed them now.”

The Man with Two Hats (De man met de twee hoeden) raises two hats to show his joy at being liberated. He faces Ottawa. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The people are so thankful that they have installed a statue, the Man with Two Hats (De man met de twee hoeden) on Canada-laan across from where the thank you parades are held. Because the people were so happy at being liberated raising one hat wasn’t enough. A replica statue stands in Ottawa. Each faces the other.

Chris and Meis Petter. (Allan Lynch Photo)

My first full day in Arnhem began with a visit with Chris Petter and his wife, Meis. They live in a modern neighbourhood of townhouses which encircle a vast, wooden windmill whose bight white arms were making loops in the morning sky. Several times a week for almost 40 years Petter, who remembers the liberation, has visited the graves of men who died fighting for Holland’s liberation. On each of his visits he lays flowers purchased with his own money on their graves. But that wasn’t enough, he has researched the lives of the fallen, compiling biographies and corresponding with their family members. In the case of Jack Wills, an airman from Saskatoon, Petter found Jack’s fiancé, Cora Dier, to let her know where Jack is buried. How he honours our Vets earned him the attention of various media in Canada and Europe, and an MBE from Queen Elizabeth. (Chris Petter died in early 2017. I hope there are flowers for his grave. He lived a good and honourable life.)

After our visit, I followed Petter’s steps and the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery and Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, which is the largest war cemetery in The Netherlands. Petter told me the story of the five stones set together at the Oosterbeek cemetery. In all war cemeteries graves are spaced evenly apart, but since these fliers couldn’t be individually identified these crewmates are buried together.

The day finished at the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek. The museum is on one of the country’s rare hills and the centre of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. It’s a small, interesting museum focused on life before the war, the occupation, then the liberation and rebuilding of the country.

Fields of unfilled dreams for some, liberation for others. (Allan Lynch Photo)

My next day was back at a cemetery. This time the Canadian War Cemetery in Bergen op Zoom. It’s almost a two-hour drive, but the roads are modern and well-maintained and the countryside pleasant. If you don’t have a car, it’s still easy to reach this region using public transportation.

A small Canadian war cemetery with six kilometres of edging around the gravestones. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The Bergen cemetery was next the British cemetery. Some people may think holidaying in cemeteries odd, but is really a sacrifice? This is after all a pilgrimage. It was in the Canadian cemetery I met one of the gardeners who works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Martin told me that even though this is the smallest Canadian cemetery in The Netherlands with 965 of 1,115 graves for fallen Canadians, it has six kilometres of edging around the tombstones. He also told me that the limestone grave markers are cleaned twice a year, three times if it’s a damp winter.

From the cemetery I took a break to have lunch in the centre of Bergen, a wonderful 800-year-old city which boggles the mind with its ancientness. The country’s oldest hotel, Grand Hotel Dedraak has been in business since 1397, that’s 95 years before Columbus set sail!

My final war stop was at the Liberation Museum of Zeeland. Begun as a family run museum it is very personal and exceptionally well done. The museum is adding a whole new outdoor experience with jeep drive, bailey bridge, trenches, gardens and more exhibition space to complete the experience. Their collection is constantly growing because even 70 years after the surrender, unexploded bombs and war artifacts are regularly uncovered by farmers ploughing fields or during new construction.

An annual act of remembrance is to place candles on the graves of Canadian soldiers who died liberating The Netherlands. (Robert Allen Photo)

Visiting these places is humbling. The Dutch are vigorous in ensuring that succeeding generations know the story of their freedom and appreciate Canada’s role in their liberation. In addition to school trips to museums and war memorials is the Christmas Eve tradition of placing a candle on every war grave. The images of candle light graveyards produce a lump-in-throat pride.

The Liberation Route tracks the progress of the liberating armies from Portsmouth to Gdansk. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Whatever time of year you visit, it’s easy to develop your own war pilgrimage. The Netherlands are part of the Liberation Route Europe, which is a commemorative experience ranging from Plymouth, England to Gdansk, Poland. The route is designed to allow people to follow parts of it or drop in to individual places and learn about a particular area’s history. There are plaques, audio stories, tours, travel offices and websites to help you organize your own experience.

I’m glad I returned to The Netherlands. The trip was too quick. It’s a small place, but has much to take in and caters to all tastes. I liked the art, history and pace.

The Netherlands are worth visiting on their own, but for Canadians there is that separate, special, stronger appeal, a shared history and experience and pride.

If you go:

For information about The Netherlands and various touring and cultural options, contact your travel agent, Netherlands Tourism at www.holland.com, Amsterdam Tourism at www.Iamsterdam.com and the Liberation Route at http://liberationroute.com. The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005 www.rcl005.nl also welcomes inquiries from Canadians.

Awe-inspiring iceberg watching off Newfoundland

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Our first icy island surrounded by fog in a blue-black Atlantic. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Iceberg watching off Newfoundland is a bucket list experience.

There are very few places in the world where you can see icebergs. And none are as convenient a perch as Newfoundland. Once here, you almost don’t have to “go” anywhere to see them. Some days you can sit in the linen-and-crystal comfort of the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland’s Oppidan restaurant and watch them pass by the mouth of St. John’s Harbour. Or you can walk almost anywhere along the shore to see them.

Icebergs are fascinating, in that odd, mammoth way nature can present itself. Of the 800 + icebergs which make it as far south as St. John’s, most come from glaciers in Western Greenland, the rest from the Arctic. Whatever their nationality, to me, icebergs seem to be some gigantic parade of martyrs on a sacrificial pilgrimage to the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

In Newfoundland, during iceberg season, which is from April to July, you can sit on the shore and watch these silent behemoths floating, like ghosts, across the horizon. Or you can join a boat tour to get a closer look.

Spurred by my friend’s seductive photos, I made my second trip to Newfoundland to see icebergs. My first experience was off Saint Anthony on the tip of that north-pointing finger which sticks up from the island of Newfoundland.

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The rough surface is where bits of the berg have broken away. (Allan Lynch Photo)

On a bright July afternoon I joined 16 others at Noddy Bay, between the L’Anse Aux Meadows UNESCO World Heritage Site and St. Anthony’s to board an open boat and head out in search of these floating curiosities.

After an hour’s sail, our conversation was suddenly broken by a chorus of “Oh my gawd!”

In the middle of a wall of haze was a dark, ominous structure which gradually revealed itself to be an iceberg. It was frightening and beautiful. This meringue-like mountain glowed in the sunlight on a brilliant blue calm sea, surrounded by hundreds of floating pieces of debris ice. I had a hair-raising glimpse of what it must have been like on the morning after Titanic sank. It’s nature’s perverse joke that the prettiest things are often the most lethal.

While the group struggled to speak – it was so beautiful that coherency and adjectives left us – we snapped photos and pointed as if you could miss an eight-storey-high iceberg a few hundred yards to port. In modern society, we seem to make size comparisons to football fields. The website icebergfinder.com, which is operated by a group of experts at Memorial University in St. John’s, puts icebergs in six, easy to understand, size categories. Extra large is the size of a suspension bridge like Lion’s Gate in Vancouver or the MacDonald over Halifax Harbour. Large would be a football stadium, like Toronto’s Skydome or Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Medium is the size of a 15-storey office building. Small is church size. A “bergy bit” is the size of a house while a “growler” comes in at van size.

The waters around this first iceberg were a calm, Caribbean-like turquoise colour, which glowed against the blue-black of the North Atlantic. The lightness is due to the reflection from the submerged part of the iceberg. For us, there was an Oz-like feel to being here. But we had gone down a different type of yellow brick road to find a piece of ice the size of several football stadiums. Clarence, the man at the helm of our boat smiled, “You should come here in April month – they’re uuge!’ (Pronounced without the h.)

The iceberg looked big enough to me. It was like a white cake whose centre had collapsed to reveal a translucent blue-green interior. Periodically, we heard a crack, like a gunshot, and then thunder as a wall of ice cascaded into the ocean, adding to the debris field. Icebergs have a dangerous, seductive beauty to them, like a forbidden love.

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This iceberg off Bonavista sports stripes of soil and rock. (Allan Lynch Photo)

My second foray into iceberg watching was off Bonavista. A four-hour drive north of St. John’s, this is where the explorer John Cabot landed in 1497. A replica of that original ship made a return voyage in 1997. It is on display in the town.

I arrived late in the season and was supposed to sail out of Trinity Bay on a scheduled cruise with Captain Art of Atlantic Adventure Boat Tours. Unfortunately, our cruise was cancelled because of heavy rain and fog. However, Newfoundlanders won’t ever leave you high and dry. So Captain Art made some calls and found me icebergs in Bonavista. “The guy at the Elizabeth J Cottages – he’s new, from Ontario (this was several years ago – but by Atlantic standards, he would still be ‘new’) – said there were three icebergs off his place now. And he knows a lobster fisherman who was going out. You could probably go with him.”

I hopped in the car and drove the 55 kms to Bonavista, concerned I might be expected to help haul lobster pots on a working boat. I found the two crayon-coloured self-catering Elizabeth J Cottages perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the North Atlantic. Our man there called Scott, the lobster fisherman, who was already out in his boat. We agreed to meet at the wharf at 1:30.

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I was expecting the lobster boat would be bigger. And covered. (Allan Lynch Photo)

When Scott motored in to the inner harbour at Bonavista, I was expecting a Cape Islander type of boat, with a small wheelhouse to provide some shelter from the elements. Scott’s lobster boat was 20 feet long and wide open. It takes guts to go out to work on the ocean in something like this.

Scott decided he should stay in port to help his partner sell their catch, so he called his friend Larry to take me out in his boat. Then, looking at my clothes he asked if I had my wet gear in the car? I was wearing a light ski jacket, a fleece, jeans and suede deck shoes. “No, I don’t mind getting a little wet,” I naively said.

Scott shook his head and, in the rain, stripped right there on the wharf. It wasn’t the full monty, he just took off the rubber jacket and pants and told me to put them on. Then looking at my deck shoes, he offered me the boots he was wearing. It’s one thing to take the slicker off a fisherman’s back, but I couldn’t take his boots.

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Crabman Larry and the berg off Bonavista. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The boat fueled and me covered in fishy-smelling, water-repellent clothing, Larry and I set off in a heavy rain, on a five-mile boat ride, banging over white caps in the North Atlantic, to the closest iceberg. Water splashed over the sides and poured down from overhead. I was more than a little glad for the borrowed wet gear.

Larry kept up a steady dialogue. I don’t know if he didn’t notice the rain or was keeping me distracted or if he was just very sociable. Like I imagine most men of this coast, Larry knows everything about the sea, the catches, where you catch what, which boats are best for which fishery and has opinions on government and the Cod fishery. I don’t think many Newfoundlanders are in the diplomatic corps. I also learned about life on a crab boat. It was a first-hand lesson in the fishery.

As we got closer to the iceberg, it looked more blue than it had from the shore. Icebergs are full of tiny air bubbles which reflect the available light, so the overcast sky contributed to the bluish hue. In addition to their scale, icebergs can be filled with interesting caves, the odd waterfall and can seem decorated by dark lines as if some deft-handed artist decided to detail the structure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarry matter-of-factly explained we had to keep our distance while circling the iceberg “because if she tips over or breaks apart, we’re goners.” He seemed not to notice my look as he detailed the dangers: we could be sunk by flying ice or by the waves created by a major breakup or flipped over by a submerged part rising above the waterline. Suddenly, the luster was coming off this little adventure.

After an hour of tasting salt on my lips, trying to keep my glasses clear, of maintaining a death grip on my camera to keep it from flying overboard, and wondering if my feet would ever be dry again, we headed back to shore.

My contact at the Elizabeth J Cottages told me that morning he watched an iceberg disintegrate. “I was walking the dog along the shore and I heard this loud crack and suddenly the iceberg just exploded!” he said. It broke into two halves, with the centre part flying into the air.

Stave Bruno, an engineering professor at Memorial University , and author of Icebergs of Newfoundland and Labrador, explained, “The ice itself is under a lot of tension, so when it does break through some catastrophic failure, like an iceberg breaking in half, there’s so much stress being relieved that things do snap and fly. And the iceberg is quite high, so big chunks may fall and splash or may splinter up and outwards. When huge icebergs roll over and chunks break off and strike the water, they give the appearance of bombs blowing up with water spray shooting way up in the air, so it does look every bit like an explosion.” But that’s one of nature’s illusions.

As amazing as icebergs are to watch, Newfoundland provides an equally curious array of land-based discoveries to fill in your non-water-based schedule. For example, I don’t know that a lot of Canadians understand the importance of the viking settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site. A thousand years ago 75 Norse men and women settled this site, making it the only known Viking settlement in North America.

L'anse aux meadowsL’Anse Aux Meadows feels like the place time forgot. Aside from a few houses in the distance, the landscape looks untouched. It’s almost spooky in its raw, rugged naturalness to be in a place where Lief Eriksson and his party lived 500 years before Columbus set sail. It is far enough north that it’s possible to see the Aurora Borealis, polar bears in spring and moose all the time.

L’Anse Aux Meadows is also the first place in the world to earn a World Heritage Site designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It earned this designation – before places like the Pyramids, Great Wall of China and Venice – because when the Vikings landed here, they completed the human circle. Scientists believe the human race originated in Africa. Between 150,000 and 250,000 years ago some tribes went East as far as Siberia, while others went west and north to Europe and Scandinavia. The descendants of the Siberian populations are the indigenous people of North America, so the Vikings’ arrival in Newfoundland was the first time the two arms of the human race reunited and the encirclement of the globe was complete.

Less important to the world, but interesting for visitors, are places like Port Union, which is Canada’s only union-built town, and a place so progressive that it had electricity before New York City. At the Ryan Premises, in Bonavista, I learned about the various fisheries that built a once-prosperous economy here. In the town of Trinity I found a pretty, yet somewhat sad place. Architecturally, it is filled with well-maintained and colourfully decorated homes. The sad aspect is that this once thriving community only has 20 elderly year-round residents. In summer the population climbs to 250. That’s when the place comes alive, when parking lots fill with visitors staying in B&Bs, visiting the historic buildings and attending performances at the Rising Tide Theatre.

This area is off the beaten path for many visitors to Newfoundland, but it has all the elements for a successful holiday. In addition to the raw beauty of nature, there are elegant accommodations, seafood so fresh you can see it being landed, and people so friendly they will literally give you the clothes off their back. And then there are icebergs, whales, seabirds. Where else can you have all this?

Weekend in Wolfville


The joy of a weekend in Wolfville is not knowing what little treasures you will uncover. After a community breakfast and visit and socializing at the Saturday Farmers’ Market, I strolled down Main Street and learned April is poetry month.

To celebrate, the delicious Box of Delights book store turned their front windows into a poetry happening. There are poetry books to buy. On the outside of the window are posters inviting passersby to take the blank pieces of paper available in a folder on the poster used the pens also attached (in case you lack your own) to write a favourite verse, quote a favourite poet or write your own. The Box of Delights also includes rolls of tape so anyone can post to their window. And people do post!

Come on by. The Box of Delights’ poetry windows await.

 

Remembering Vimy

I have written about Vimy Ridge and what there is to see and experience there:

http://canada150.rocks/2017/04/09/vimy-ridge-canada-abroad/

 

My genealogical pilgrimage

 

When my friend Jennifer started researching her family genealogy I joked that she was just looking for an unclaimed title, an estate or a fortune. Trying to change the subject she asked, “Is your family Irish?”

Once upon a time, but my branch have been in Nova Scotia since 1765. So it’s not like we’ve got kissing cousins there. Still, when I finished school and earned my own money, Ireland was the first country I paid to visit. I’ve been back nine times. I know all the Lynches where I live and thought if I went to Ireland I might bump into someone who turned out to be a long, lost relative. It’s my type of casual genealogical pilgrimage.

For my first trip I didn’t bother with any type of traditional genealogical study. I just asked my grandfather, who was born in 1878, where we were from. He thought Galway or Cork. Apparently we weren’t too sentimental about the old country. So I bought a cheap plane ticket to Dublin and did my best to acquire a taste for Guinness. There are four “black beer” in Ireland and at the risk of never regaining citizenship I can’t say I am enamored of any of them. They just make me sleepy. Sober and awake, I rented a yellow Escort and set out “to do” Ireland by following the coast.

Trying to drive on the left while reading a map is not easy. I was lost a lot of the time.

Which is usually how I discover things, like the ancient monastic community of Glendalough. In Wexford I learned a way around bar closing hours was to join a hotel bridge club. From Waterford and Cork, I always drop down to the south coast to spent time in Ireland’s culinary capital, Kinsale (pronounced kin-saaaaaale, as if expelling all air from your lungs). It’s a colourful little town where every second door seems to be a pub or café. From here I follow the Ring of Kerry, a winding, roller-coaster strip of pavement cut into hillsides in the southwest corner of the country which takes you to towns with fantastical, musical-hall-sounding names like Skibbereen, Killarney and Tralee.

The Ring ends in Limerick where I met two elderly Canadian couples with the station wagon version of my Escort. I couldn’t find the horn and they couldn’t get theirs into reverse. They showed me the horn – on the end of the directional signals – and I showed them how to put the car into reverse (push down on the stick shift and pull back). They had been putting the car in neutral, then three of them would jump out to push it backwards.

When I finally got to Galway, I found Lynch family history pretty quickly. Instead of running into a living relative, I learned about dead kinsmen. Our history starts on the corner of Shop and Abbeygate Streets in the foyer of a small grey stone fortified house called Lynch’s Castle. I had no idea we had a castle. Well, we don’t. Not anymore, it’s a branch of the Allied Irish Bank.

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The family castle. More like a fortified townhouse. (Allan Lynch Photo)

This was a time when I still travelled with traveller’s cheques, so I marched into the ornate banking hall to see the teller’s reaction when I presented a cheque with a Lynch name on it. She said nothing. Obviously I was not the first traveling Lynch to appear and being a Lynch in Galway isn’t that unique. We’re pretty much the whole phone book. The streets leading to the castle are lined with Lynch-owned businesses: Lynch’s Cafe, Lynch’s restaurant, Lynch’s Fashions, Lynch Locks (a hairdresser), and so on.

So whenever a friend is travelling in Ireland, I send them to Galway to see the family castle. They look at me as if I’m fibbing. On my most recent trip, I took a California colleague to Galway and didn’t brief him about our history. I thought it would be fun to watch his facial expressions as he read the extensive family history on display in the castle foyer. In the 15th century we were Lynch Fitzstephen. In 1493 a popular young man-about-Galway, Walter Lynch, and a young Spanish count fell for the same girl. It’s an old story: drinks, raging hormones and a little sword play. The count’s body ended up in Galway Bay. Alas, the tides brought him back. There was a trial and the ever so remorseful Walter was convicted and sentenced to death.

The citizens of Galway took the position, ‘boys will be boys’ and tried to have Walter pardoned. Public opinion was such that the city executioner declined to carry out the sentence. As the young Walter sat in jail awaiting his fate, upset citizens formed a mob and prepared to break him out of jail. They were the first Lynch mob. Contrary to popular culture, Lynch mobs are not to attack and string up a convict, but to free the prisoner.

Walter’s father, James Lynch Fitzstephen, was the Lord Mayor and a stickler for the law.

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The Hanging Window. (Allan Lynch Photo)

To ensure the mob didn’t prevail, James visited Walter in jail on the eve of the execution. As father and son sat together, the father slipped a noose around his son’s neck and pushed him out the window, thereby giving the language the concept of Lynching and Lynch law. It’s why we say people who are hanged are Lynched.

My colleague David jeered, “This is your family? You’re proud of this?”

“Mock all you want, have you got a family castle? Come, we’re not done.”

I walked him down the street past all the other Lynch businesses to a lane by St. Nicholas Church. At the end of the lane is the ruin of a stone wall. Above a skull and crossbones a plague explains this is the window from which Lynch Fitzstephen hung his son. David shakes his head and starts to put distance between us, as if he was having second thoughts about sharing a car with me.

There may not be an estate, title or fortune to be found, but I’ve dined out on the story of our family history for decades. Who knows what others will find digging into their genealogy should they make their way back to the ancestral homeland.