Travel | December 9, 2019 4:32 pm

How an Irish Airline Helped Me Find My Ancestors

Part vacation, part sleuthing mission, all awesome (and makes a great gift)

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

Of all the gifts one can give during the holidays, your pals at InsideHook are of the opinion that a trip reigns supreme. Sure, we recommend a plethora of excellent gifts, but in truth a shared experience will continue to be fondly remembered and talked about for far longer than any sweater, piece of jewelry or electronic doodad ever will.

For those of Irish descent reading this, we’ve got just the trip for you.

Recently, your correspondent, along with his brother, joined Aer Lingus for a test drive of their new “Discover Your Roots” trip package, a six-night excursion to the Emerald Isle intended to help folks with Irish blood create an IRL connection to their ancestry. 

Included: round-trip airfare on Aer Lingus, a private consultation with a genealogist to suss out family info, two nights at a Dublin hotel, a car to traverse the countryside, and lodging at a series of cozy B&Bs on your quest for cultural identity.

Now, my brother and I were never really into our “roots” all that much growing up. Not that we didn’t care about our heritage, it just wasn’t much of a focus for our family. We were aware we were “mostly Irish” on our mom’s side (pops was adopted), but too many generations removed to really feel any true connection to the motherland.

But we’ve got inquisitive minds and an affinity for Guinness, so we figured what the hell. Here’s what we discovered:

Step One: The Genealogist


On day one, you’ll begin by exploring Dublin’s EPIC Emigration Museum. Founded in 2016 by Neville Isbell, former CEO of Coca-Cola and an Irish emigree himself, EPIC is essentially a celebration of the Irish diaspora — largely due to the Great Famine of the 1840s, millions of Irish left their homeland for all corners of the globe, siring progeny that would become influential in the worlds of science, entertainment, sports, politics, business and more. Ireland is very proud of this, and the museum’s various highly interactive exhibits are filled with interesting tidbits — we had no idea, for example, that Barack Obama has some Irish roots (insert obligatory “O’Bama” joke here).

An exhibit at the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin. (photo: EPIC Musuem)

Afterward comes the genealogy consult itself — you’re encouraged to provide any information you may already have on your forebears (our mom had procured some bits and bobs via relatives and ancestry.com), and it’s honestly pretty amazing what they’re able to turn up. Our supremely quirky genealogist Patrick helped us to drill down on not only the county, but the exact village our family hailed from, plus the names of ancestors no one in our family had ever even heard of.

Step Two: Dublin


Before setting off in search of your familial wellspring, you’ll have a couple days to kick around Dublin. Smarter writers than yours truly have expounded at length on how to spend your time in Ireland’s largest city, but for the Agnew Brothers’ two pennies, you can never go wrong catching some Irish folk music and dance (the Celtic Nights show at the Arlington Hotel was a delight and packed with folks from all over the world) and checking out a few distilleries (Teeling, the first new distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years, was a highlight). 

The first new distillery opened in Dublin in 125 years, Teeling Irish Whiskey offers tours culminating in a guided tasting.

Step Three: The Search


On day three you’ll pick up your rental car and you’re off to explore your roots. How deep into the role of “ancestral detective” you want to delve is up to you; just want to cruise the countryside and visit the various points of interest around where your family is from? Totally fine. Want to pop into pubs and churches, ask some questions and see what you can find out? Have at it — you’ll find Irish people are exceedingly friendly and generally super excited to help point you in the right direction.

For our part, we very much enjoyed gathering information and running down leads, breaking in the evening for a few pints and a chat about what we had discovered that day. And if you’re reading this and wondering how much fruit an amateur search like this can actually bear, consider this: without getting into the weeds on the roundabout path that brought us there, our journey culminated in the kitchen of an old priest way out in the countryside, who produced a leather-bound book containing the hand-written baptism record for our great great great great grandfather, recorded in 1799. Hand to God, with the photos to prove it:

Author’s hands at left, old priest’s hands at right (just in case anyone was wondering).

Step Four: Don’t Miss the Forest For the Trees


It’s important to note here that on your quest, you shouldn’t forget to just enjoy your surroundings in general — Ireland is a beautiful country full of nature and history, and driving around cranking some tunes is a great way to experience it. We managed to visit three different national parks in our time there, took in the nightlife from Galway to Belfast, and learned to love the parts in between when we were hopelessly, irrevocably lost. And while I’ve never been much for that B&B life, our hosts were so fiercely hospitable that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. A word to the wise: do not try to turn down an Irish breakfast. You will not succeed.

The author’s brother, standing atop Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park, County Galway.

And so we come back to the idea of the trip as a gift. As far as endorsements go, I can say with confidence that this excursion is hands down the greatest thing my brother and I have ever done together. And yeah, the things we learned about a heritage we had previously known nothing about were a huge part of that. But there were also countless other moments — from standing atop Diamond Hill with a 360° view of Connemara National Park to white-knuckling our way down an absurdly narrow country road in the pouring rain (in the dark) to belting out “Don’t Stop Believing” alongside a cabal of drunk Irish college students — that we’ll remember and talk about for years to come.

Ain’t a tree big enough to fit something like that underneath.

Aer Lingus “Discover Your Roots” packages start at $1299 per person for six nights + airfare (they also offer seven and eight-night trips), and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the flight experience is real top shelf — tasty food, Jameson Caskmates on offer, and a full suite of quality entertainment. A better way to cross the pond we could not ask for, and it can be booked right this way.