The March 2017 lecture tour was another coast to coast trip for the Foundation's Fintan Mullan and Gillian Hunt with stops in Phoenix, Tacoma WA, Nashville, Michigan City IN, Bentonville AR, York County PA, Green Bay WI, Bolingbrook IL, Richmond VA, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Little Rock AR.

Tour report by Fintan Mullan

Staying more than a day in any one location during the Foundation’s North American lecture tours is not common. It has happened on a few occasions in the past but usually the speakers are on their way to the next destination before the sun has set.

In a slight break with tradition the Foundation’s staff, Gillian Hunt and Fintan Mullan, delivered two full back-to-back days in two locations in 2017: the Irish Cultural Centre and McClelland Library in Phoenix AZ, and the Fountaindale and Plainfield Libraries event held in Bolingbrook IL.

Both hosts opted to have a different programme on each day, rather than simply replicate the same programme two days in a row.

Phoenix opted for an ingenious approach of beginning each day with presentations more suited to the beginner e.g. ‘Introduction to Irish and Scots-Irish research’, ‘Getting the most out Griffith’s valuation’ or ‘Introduction to archives in Ireland’ and ‘Understanding Irish Townlands’, then both days progressed to more in-depth presentations on specific topics such as church administration records, printed sources, landed estate records, and wills and using the Registry of Deeds.

By contrast the Bolingbrook event opted for a standalone programme on the first day selecting topics that would normally be delivered in a full day line-up and for the second day opted for a deeper exploration of the Great Famine and Emigration from Ireland to North America, with presentations looking at the background to these historic events and sources for finding famine and emigrant ancestors.

Starting in the glorious sunshine of Phoenix in March was a perfect way to begin the 2017 tour but relaxed it most certainly was not. Fintan and Gillian delivered 14 events in 12 locations across the USA.

Completely new locations on the itinerary included: Tacoma WA, The Hermitage, Nashville TN, Michigan City IN, Richmond VA and Little Rock AR, and each in turn we found were very enjoyable and rewarding for us.

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We hope those attending (all our programmes) found them to be useful in helping them to progress their research.

A very large crowd turned out for a Sunday afternoon session with the Pierce County Library System on a chilly, damp day, including Sue Volek and Bruce Hasley, who later attended the Foundation’s June 2017 conference in Belfast.

Michigan City stood out as the speakers were billeted by the hosts in a casino hotel on the lakefront. It is the nearest hotel to the library (honestly!) and a whole 10 dollars were gambled (and lost) on the card tables that night. More interestingly the library was designed by the world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn and opened in 1977. A remarkable and enjoyable space to speak in it is too.

The Library of Virginia, Richmond, likewise was a fabulous facility, where our staff were welcomed on St Patrick’s Day to do a morning programme. Unfortunately they did not have time to explore the archives on this occasion; hopefully an opportunity will arise again in the future.

The Hermitage, Nashville TN, is the fascinating homeplace of President Andrew Jackson. While President Jackson is not universally admired in this age there is no doubting he is a towering figure in US history. He is one of the Ulster presidents with the strongest connection to this island and was proud of, and able to maximise the benefit from, his Irish and Scots-Irish heritage.

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The Foundation’s team delivered an evening programme in the atmospheric Tulip Grove mansion, built for Jackson’s nephew, followed by a morning of one-to-one research consultations prior to departing for Michigan City.

Another first this year was delivering two events in the state of Arkansas – Bentonville (the Foundation’s third visit to this attractive small city – and home of the retail giant Walmart) and the state capital, Little Rock, where the Foundation has been invited to return for a full day on Saturday 21 March 2020. And it was great to be back with old friends in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and York PA (not forgetting of course Phoenix, Bolingbrook and Bentonville as mentioned above).

On the 2016 lecture tour the speakers experienced challenging driving conditions while journeying in USA and Canada. Their resolve was tested again on this trip. Bad weather was forecast for Wisconsin when the team arrived in Chicago on an overnight flight. The car had a dusting of snow the next morning and a lightly falling snow turned heavy as they reached the outskirts of Milwaukee. North of ‘Brew City’ what had been an exciting drive in unusual conditions became dicey, then not a little unnerving.

Well before Sheboygan the interstate was down to one lane of slow moving traffic, creeping along in each other’s footsteps. As Fintan and Gillian reached Sheboygan the central reservation and roadside verge was littered with vehicles that had spun off, and then vehicles were directed off the motorway because of a blockage up ahead. Fearing they might miss the Green Bay event, the staff called UHF’s contact.

Luckily Dave (Miller) is a meteorologist and TV weatherman who told them to keep the faith as the snow would clear about 30 miles further north. Sure enough the UHF bandwagon rode into Green Bay, with the car slathered in slush and frozen spray, but with the speakers eager to meet the large crowd awaiting them in Brown County Library. As with Nashville, the following morning was spent doing personal consultations before the team returned to Chicago.

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