I am a man who has been blessed. I have stood on the very ground where my family name enters known history – the place where my blood took a name.
The Annals of Ulster record that Fergus, son of Nellan, was killed at Emain Macha in the year 563. I know a little about Emain Macha; located a few miles outside the town of Armagh, it was the royal seat of Ulster from time immemorial. If you read the sagas of Cuchullain, or Finn MaCool or the other heroes of the Irish tales you will find it named again and again.
I know much less about Fergus. I don’t know if he was rich or poor, a rogue or a hero, the king’s cousin or a cowherd with dung between his toes. None of this matters. What does matter is this: With his one-sentence obituary in the Annals of Ulster, Fergus gave a name to all the generations that came after him. We are the sons of Nellan – or as my Irish family calls it fifteen hundred years later, the McAnallens.
Whoever Fergus was, he was my kin. When Patrick McAnallen came to America in 1788, he left from a tiny village an easy day’s walk from Emain Macha…Some of my family, it seems, sank roots deep enough to dare the centuries.
I’ve stood on the top of Emain Macha in the mellow Irish darkness, alone yet not alone. In my mind, the shadows hummed with the welcoming presence of generation upon generation of McAnallens. Once you know the Ancestors, you are never alone. I poured them a libation of fine Bunratty mead from a drinking horn such as they might have used a thousand years ago and, burying my face in the earth, asked their blessings and pledged my loyalty in return.
Connection beyond time and space. Gifts from the Ancestors. Duty. Love. These were the essence of my first pilgrimage to Ireland, and they are also the reasons I write this.
But there are high hills and crumbling homesteads in other countries that call to my spirit, as well. Some of my other ancestors came from Germany, and Scotland, and England. Are they any less a part of me? No, of course not – but I know my Irish kin the best, and the name I bear springs from one of them…a man named Fergus. I will come to know those Germans and Scots and Englishmen, too, in time, for I am their expression as much as I am Fergus’.
My heart’s homeland is all the wide reaches of Europe. My people have been American for two centuries…but they haves been European for perhaps forty thousand years. Whatever my current nationality, I am a man of Europe, a Caucasian, a White man. The bones of my forefathers and foremothers have enriched the soil of Europe from the time of the glaciers. These earlier members of my line were hunters and explorers, artists and tamers of horses, drinkers of mead, tattooed warriors and powerful, winsome women – their blood is my blood, their soul is my soul, and ultimately their story is my story. I am one with them, and I carry them with me into the future, into that-which-shall become.