A sculpture, “Kindred Spirits”, rests here in a small park. It commemorates a donation made over a century and a half ago by the Choctaw Indians to help during the great famine that swept this land.
The Choctaws could be linked to Irish difficulties. Between 1831 and 1833, the Choctaws were the first of the southeastern tribes to be relocated to Oklahoma.
Historians estimate that 20,000 Choctaws were forced to relocate and 4,000 died along the route between the area east of the Mississippi River and Indian Territory. It is estimated that one million Irish people died as a direct result of the famine between 1845 and 1852.
The Choctaw tribal chiefs came together in the spring of 1847 to raise money for the starving masses in Ireland. They sent $170, a large sum at the time.
“These people were still recovering from their own injustice, and they put their hands in their pockets and they helped strangers,” a County Cork councilor said at the sculpture’s dedication ceremony in 2017. “C It is rare to see such generosity. It had to be acknowledged,” according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine.
The connection is even deeper. In 1992 a group of Irish men and women walked the 600 mile Trail of Tears. They raised $170,000 to fight famine in Somalia, $1,000 for every dollar donated in 1847.
Irish people are very similar to Oklahomans. They are a warm and friendly group who enjoy conversation and camaraderie. There are no strangers or tables for one in an Irish pub.
” Where do you come from ? ” they ask.
One of our tour guides had recently played the role of Curly in “Oklahoma!” He would have sung if we had encouraged him.
He would have been welcomed by the approximately 40 Oklahomans traveling here on a religious and historical pilgrimage led by Fr. Jim Goins, former pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Norman. It is one of many pilgrimages he has led.
We landed in Dublin and boarded a bus for a journey through the Wicklow and Glendalough mountains and the remains of a monastery founded in the sixth century by St. Kevin.
The Irish government is trying to preserve the site, which includes a 100ft round tower, medieval churches, a large cemetery and ornate Celtic crosses. The ecclesiastical community attracted pilgrims and scholars who studied with the monks.
In Waterford, Ireland’s first city, we visited the Waterford Glass Factory. The Vikings stopped there, first to plunder and then to settle in the 6th century. Nearby, in Kilkenny, we observe a flock of border collie sheep. The farm sits on the ruins of the ancient town of Jerpoint Newtown, which was largely abandoned after its monastery was closed by King Henry VIII and its river bridge washed away by a storm.
A relic of Saint Nicholas of Myra is buried here.
Back in Waterford at the factory, master craftsmen take the raw materials and turn them into crystal works of art. It’s an amazing process that includes blow molding, marking, cutting and engraving. Quality control is a priority, as each step requires precision craftsmanship.
About half of Waterford’s production is made here, and the rest moved to Slovenia a dozen years ago. Our group is hosting a Crystal Football replica of the College Football Championship, with the dream of bringing the real thing back to Oklahoma.
Next, a visit to the medieval museum and a look at the ancient vestments of priests. The beautiful pieces were created in the 1400s from Italian silk and hand-embroidered in Belgium with biblical scenes. They were hidden under a church in the 1600s to protect them from invaders, and rediscovered hundreds of years later when the church was demolished.
We head west through beautiful green countryside in search of Blarney Castle near Cork. While the original structure was built in the 10th century as a hunting lodge, the current stone castle dates from 1446.
We climb the narrow spiral staircase to find the Blarney Stone (the legend is said to be Jacob’s pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah). We kiss the Blarney Stone in order to acquire the gift of eloquent speech. This will come in handy as the Irish tend to strike up a conversation with everyone.