Alongside the journey to hear the stories of my ancestors and visit the places they came from I have been exploring neolithic sites. I am interested in how my ancestors lived when the Earth was viewed as sacred rather than as a resource to be exploited. These sites are mysterious, they do not yield a clear and consistent picture of how my stone age ancestors lived but feeling into the traces they left behind has been a powerful experience for me.
I am Kiri daughter of Jill, daughter of Nancy, daughter of Kate, daughter of Nancy, daughter of Brigid. In 1850 Brigid Culhane, dairy maid, age 27, single, travelled on the Sir Robert Sale from England to Australia.
We are on the ferry to Rathlin in Northern Ireland. The locals say it quickly and enunciate the ‘L’ so it sounds like rattlin’. Mum is telling me a story of my ancestors – Catherine McCaig was born on the island in 1821, she married Harry Begley and moved to Port Stuart, they had a daughter, Annie (my Grandma Bear’s grandmother) and several other children.
Driving towards Manchester Mum commented that we would be going around the ‘dark satanic mills’ and I immediately started singing Jerusalem (Blake’s poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry). I learned it at school and have always been fond of it for no reason I can say. As I came to the final line a wave of grief rose up and I found myself in tears.
We have moved from the flat, flint and clay lands of East Anglia to the hilly stone lands of the Peak District. It is lovely to see the difference in the buildings as they respond to what’s abundant in the land. Today we are in Castleton, there are no ancestors to hunt down and visit here (as far as I know) and it is something of a relief. No expectation, no stories, just me and the land.
We are at Wells-next-the-sea and I am all at sea. We left London two days ago, headed to Thaxted – birthplace of my father’s mother’s great grandfather, Thomas Suckling. Already things were improved, people greeted us on the street, chatted to us at the local cafe, it was suddenly easier to pierce our little tourist bubble.
I am a fifth generation Australian settler and I am in the UK, in the lands of my ancestors, on a quest of healing.
It is a quest in the sense that the outcome is unknown to me. I do not know what, if anything, I will discover while I am here.