The 2019 lecture tour was another extensive itinerary covering 15 events in 14 locations across the lower 48 states, ranging from Concord, Fairfield and New York in the east, to Coeur d’Alene and Salt Lake City in the west; from Tampa to Madison and Green Bay, with Denver, Chicago, Valparaiso, Louisville, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, completing the set.

Tour report by Fintan Mullan

In October 2018 Gillian Hunt and Fintan Mullan concluded their itinerary in Manchester NH. There was but a morning at the end (before the flight home) for some R&R after the week-long British Institute in SLC. This was spent trying to scale Mount Washington on its famous cog railway. It was already late in the season – the rich hues of a New Hampshire autumn were gone – and driving to the top was out as the road had closed for winter. We were to soon find out that going to the top on the cog railway was also out; the summit was shrouded in snow, fog, and ice. We had to make do – like the Grand Old Duke – with going only halfway up. Winter comes on hard in this location and it would be nearly six long months before it loosened its grip.

We know because in March 2019 we returned to New Hampshire, to the state capital, Concord, to start the tour with the New Hampshire Historical Society. With snow heavy on the ground we were in for a special treat. First, the programme was to take place in the sophisticated and attractive building of the Society. Second, our programme coincided with the three-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Ulster settlers from the 1718 migration at Nutfield (renamed Londonderry), New Hampshire on 11 April 1719, and as part of our day’s proceedings, the original petition presented to Governor Shute containing the names of some 319 individuals from Ireland was on display for participants at the Foundation’s workshop.

This document announced to the Boston authorities in spring 1718 the intention of these Ulster migrants to come to New England. It is held by the New Hampshire Historical Society and during the programme Wesley Balla, Director of Collections, explained its historical significance and the on-going efforts to conserve this important source.

Taking the last flight out after our Philadelphia programme bound for Chicago we were dismayed with others in the last group to be held back from boarding with the comment ‘the plane has some problems’. Such is the lot of the late night traveller. The bad news: we arrived nearly two hours later than hoped; the good – the Irish American Heritage Center is within a ‘stone’s throw’, relatively speaking, of O’Hare.

Our first programme with the Irish Center was one of the highlights of the 2019 tour. A huge crowd, some 200-people strong, were eager, interested and great fun. We start the 2020 tour with these wonderful folks.

The snow did not let up as we headed off to the attractive city of Madison WI, home to the main campus of the University of Wisconsin. This second visit allowed us to make new friends and meet old ones from previous US tour engagements, the SLC event of only the previous October, and a real treat – an old family friend from my son’s days on the Ulster Project in Milwaukee 20 years ago. We also had time to catch up with our pal Dave Miller of Green Bay WI, now enjoying a second career as a genealogist, following his retirement from meteorology later in 2019.

It is a truism that the warmth of the welcome is often in direct contrast to the biting cold outside, and the welcome among our friends in Green Bay was toasty-warm. Back with Mary Jane Herber and her crew, and Dave, the programme delivered to Brown County Library was to another full house.

In Green Bay we enjoyed a lovely evening at the home of 2018 conference delegate, Valerie Plasky, and her husband. On the atmospheric drive to her very rural location we drove mile after straight mile, interspersed with many 90-degree turns at unmarked junctions. As Joyce’s Dubliners might describe it in ‘The Dead’: ‘snow was general all over … falling on every part of the dark central plain … and faintly falling … upon all the living and the dead.’

Being back in SLC so soon after our British Institute outing from October 2018 was dandy as we were back with mates Stan Lindaas and his wife Rocky. The contrast between SLC and Green Bay was marked. We arrived to a fresh fall of crisp, white snow in bright sunshine – like a Hollywood-perfect smile. So much so someone went out to the yard to make snow angels. She would not have done that in Green Bay.

Returning to our friends at W.I.S.E. in the Denver Public Library, with the legendary James Jeffries as MC, was a pleasure. While we dodged the storms raging over Denver just before we arrived, proving you cannot ride your luck forever, Gillian was laid low with a terrible winter bug (which lasted from leaving SLC until after Pittsburgh). She showed considerable pluck and resilience to be able to deliver her presentations, in some discomfort, to the large, welcoming crowd (including many previous UHF conference attendees).

The grounding of the Boeing 737 Max fleet impacted directly on the tour. Our Saturday night flight from Denver became a Sunday morning to get to Pittsburgh, by way of a quick visit to our stalwart supporter, Gary Hawbaker in Hershey PA. The delay disrupted our journey to wonderful hosts, the Heinz History Center and the Westmoreland County Historical Society, but we made it. We must pay tribute here to our hosts in Pittsburgh and the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. In March 2020 we return to both (Philadelphia on 15 March, Pittsburgh on St Patrick’s Day), and wish to acknowledge their outstanding commitment to the Foundation: we have presented in both cities every year since 2014.

As much as we like revisiting old haunts, we relish travelling to new locations to encourage family historians to pursue their ancestors and showcase the Foundation’s work. New venues in 2019 included: Concord and the Irish American Heritage Center (both mentioned above), Coeur d’Alene, Valparaiso IN, Tampa, and two venues in New York City.

Coeur d’Alene was our furthest foray west in 2019, but before we got there first lay an exciting return to the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. This venerable, elegant Society first hosted us in 2018. In 2019 we had the added bonus of having Jerry Miller in the audience. Jerry is a keen genealogist – he and his wife attended the Foundation’s June 2016 conference, and he sponsored both the 2018 and 2019 visits to Louisville.

Staff first visited Coeur d’Alene in May 2005. The late Dr Trainor and Fintan Mullan spent the night there prior to the deer-impact incident en route to Calgary. The 2019 visit was a lot colder, with perhaps eight inches more snow on the ground, but immense fun. Jan Clizer, her daughter Jessica (both of whom are conference alumni), and their neighbour, Todd Neel, staged an all-day event. Jan and Jess are bringing us back in March 2020 as part of a festival Jan is organising. She is an artist of some note and an all-round good egg.

The Foundation always enjoys library programmes and we were not disappointed by the one in Valparaiso IN, part of the Porter County Public Library System. We met delightful folk there, and as with all of the other venues, people dedicated to finding their Irish and Scots-Irish forebears. Our host Emily Duran and her team were superb and we had the chance to meet an old acquaintance, Don Glossinger of Michigan City Library, where we delivered a programme in 2017.s in 2019 to Jane.

We had to hasten away from Valparaiso to catch a late evening flight to Tampa FL to rendezvous with our host, Donna Moughty. Donna is a regular speaker on the genealogy circuit and she brings research groups to Ireland annually. The Tampa programme was the most successful of the whole 2019 tour, with six supporting host organisations this was a well-organised and highly-professional event. We thoroughly enjoyed it. After slushing through snow in the northern states it was nice to feel sunshine on our shoulders (for a max. of 22 hours: arrived midnight Friday; departed 10:00pm Saturday).

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A late night arrival in Hartford was made later still by the rental car company closing their office 45 minutes early. Arriving in Fairfield at 3:00am, over two hours later than expected, we were a little groggy on the last Sunday morning of the tour, but you cannot help but perk-up visiting the Gaelic American Club in Fairfield, and especially as one of UHF’s oldest pals, Clare Kilgallen Lawler, was an organiser along with John Minehan of the Club. This thriving institution gave us another magnificent experience.

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With two gigs to go we were in danger of becoming ‘demob’ happy. Both were linked to the Carnegie Migrations festival which ran through March and April. This opportunity was thanks to the initiative of Billy Condon, VP Marketing USA of Tourism Ireland. The final event was with the august American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Ave. Famous Irish-Americans –past and present – have graced its halls, including many Scotch-Irish patrons, not least President Teddy Roosevelt. We were impressed to see a number of those at our final workshop had also attended the day before.

Our last but one event felt a bit special. The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society – the second-oldest genealogical society in the USA – was unknown to us. It was satisfying that the group at this final programme confirmed all our best experiences of the tour: the dedication to their ancestry, goodwill, humour, intelligent questioning, love of buying books and desire to go further in their research. It was a good day for other reasons: as mentioned, several people returned the following day; individuals attended the June 2019 conference as a result; Pat Phelan, a friend from years back, has set up a date in 2021 with the Long Island Forum. Best of all NYGBS is planning an Irish tour in late April 2020 in co-operation with the Foundation.

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Driving to New York was thrilling as it meant we got to stay again with our dear friend Jane Rymer. Jane’s house in Ridgewood NJ has been a home from home for our staff since 2007: for the programmes we delivered in the New Jersey and New York area and often as a rest stop when we were passing through north to south, or vice versa. The very essence of Irish-American hospitality, Jane was beloved by all who knew and met her, including the whole street where she lived who turned out to throw her a surprise 90th birthday party. Jane had a passion for life and for things Irish, including family history. Her own family hailed from Belfast and worked in Barbour’s mill in Paterson NJ where they settled. It was a delight to see her again in March. We mention this as it was the last: Jane died 5 September 2019, aged 91.

We dedicate the hard work, enthusiasm, laughter and support provided by everyone who attended, sponsored, organised and helped to deliver our programme