Thursday, June 21, 2018

Grateful to be greener

Published: 3/17/13 @ 12:00

By Todd Franko (Contact)

An email came in yesterday morning titled “This Green Weekend.”

It was sent by Mr. Fennell from across the pond.

Ireland, actually.

West County Cork, Ireland, more specifically.

Goleen, Ireland, to be exact — the birthplace of my mom’s family. Both of her parents hail from the town that is about the size of New Middletown.

All my St. Patrick’s Days before today, that place was mythical to us. We knew a place existed that was home to us Downeys of Buffalo, N.Y. But it was as truly Irish to us as Notre Dame’s mascot or Applebee’s corned-beef special.

We were “Irish*” — with an asterisk; in name, but not necessarily in knowledge.

But thanks to a July 2012 trip “home” that was touched by the luck of a leprechaun in so many ways, I am grateful to be greener today than I ever was.

On my blog on, I will attach links to the actual 2012 personal diary and video I produced after that trip. But to recap here:

My wife and I marked 20 years of marriage last year, and we set as our present to each other a trip to Ireland. We knew my family’s hometown, but had no personal connections. We were OK just to arrive there and figure it out. O’Lewis and O’Clark, if you will.

A year ago this week, with our tickets purchased, I took to the Internet and emailed any Downey within 100 miles of my hometown, as well as the churches and the heritage centers.

To whom:

We are planning a trip to Ireland this summer and we hope to do some ancestral tracings in Goleen and Schull.

Our family name is Downey. My grandfather is Michael and maternal great-grandfather is Cornelius. They left for America in 1922 and late 1800s, respectively.

Please advise if you can help. Thank you for your time.

Twenty or so emails yielded just five replies. The first four were “sorry” or “not our family.”

The fifth reply was from a community leader, Sue. Her email was a key that unlocked more than 300 years of half of my being.

We obviously had no idea that would be our last reply. It was nothing short of luck of the Irish because it was.


I have been talking to Kathleen Downey and she would like to talk to you. The plot thickens!


Kathleen married into the Downeys. And in 15 minutes of our phone conversation, it was apparent that her husband’s father and my mom’s father were brothers. Kathleen and Jimmy lived in his father’s former home and were just a mile from the 300-year-old Downey homestead where the brothers were born.

“It’s still standing. We can go in it,” she said.

“We can?” I said — stunned.

Thus, our “20 years of marriage” vacation became a heritage trip with my mom and uncle along for the ride.

Seared forever in my soul is the moment my mom and her first cousin Jimmy hugged for the first time on the Goleen street that was walked by their grandfather and great- grandfathers. It was as familial an experience as one would rank with birth, marriage and death.

So I’m grateful to be greener.

It would be superficial to say I’m a changed person.

I mean — I still have weight issues; my ways and means still accommodate folks as much as they aggravate folks; and I have no more green or Celtic in my life than before.

The change is deeper.

I always celebrate those stories of people who find their birth parents 30 years later. I enjoy when folks share tales of their old neighborhoods that no longer exist. And I pause in awe of feats of human extreme such as climbing the highest heights or diving the deepest points.

I think such incidents and experiences offer changes in perspective.

Perspective is a powerful tool that you don’t get from a Rascal Flatts concert.

So Mr. Fennell wrote “This Green Weekend” yesterday. He is a beloved neighbor of our newly found family in Goleen, Ireland, who has kept in touch almost weekly since — thanks in part to a healthy Internet connection.

When we left Ireland, we packed oh so carefully into our suitcase a 40-pound black bastable pot that’s about 150 or so years old. It sits in our fireplace like it did in the 300-year-old Downey homestead fireplace where it spent its first 149 years.

That pot is the Rascal Flatts equivalent of our experience — something you can touch, see and smell.

But so much more of the experience — 300 years’ worth — is carefully packed away in our souls.

This weekend, they are green in Goleen, Ireland.

And my family is greener over here because of them.

And we are grateful.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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