By Laura Stocker
“It’s so green!” was all Adele Greene could think as her Aer Lingus flight skipped over the clouds approaching Dublin. She loved taking a night flight so the sun would be shining when she landed.
The green was particularly brilliant on that unusually sunny day after a rain, as they flew over hills, valleys, ceremonial mounds and occasional castle ruins.
How different from the desert this must have looked to the remnants of the Lost Tribes. Romans recognized them as Hebrews when they arrived because they knew this as the island where the descendants of Leah’s and Jacob’s sons — Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Levi, Zebulon and Issachar settled. Other lost Hebrews had found their way to Scotland and Wales.
Adele was on this quest to find a link between her family and their Hebrew ancestors. Her mother, Sarah Greene, always talked about the similarities between written Hebrew and Gaelic. She believed that her relatives were among Jews who migrated from Spain to Ireland and Scotland, where they blended in with the natives.
While sipping tea with her mother one day, Adele had mentioned in passing similarities between written Hebrew and Gaelic. Sarah Greene smiled knowingly and shared her belief that at least one of the Lost Tribes of Israel had ended up in the British Isles. Mother and daughter that afternoon started planning a trip to Ireland and Scotland to see if they could find out if their family had been among those in the Lost Tribes who had landed in Britain.
After her mother died unexpectedly, Adele wondered if she could figure out the family riddle without Sarah’s help. Her search kept Adele preoccupied and unable to concentrate on little else. Adele became so obsessed that she decided to ask for a leave of absence from work to figure it all out. The plan was to travel to Ireland to reconnect with Seamus Sullivan, a cousin she'd met when he was visiting San Francisco. They'd kept in touch and he was intrigued with her search for family.
She was certain that her mother somehow planted ideas in her head to keep her focused. When she came to dead ends about where to look next, possibilities often just occurred. “Where did that come from?” she’d ask herself, because she had neither the knowledge nor background to come up with them. It was becoming increasingly clear that these suggestions somehow were coming from Mother.
The Greenes traced their heritage to Scotland, where Sarah’s maternal great-great grandfather was born, and to the Ireland of her great-great grandmother’s forebears. Family stories held that their Jewish ancestors had been welcomed to Ireland after having been persecuted in Europe. Her father’s Catholic family had their roots in Germany, and had found their way to freedom and less oppression in Ireland and England. Dad’s great-aunt Ida had inherited a large flawless cameo framed in gold from her ancestors who were among Spanish Jews who immigrated to Ireland in the 1600s. Michael Greene’s maiden aunt left it to Adele’s father, who started the tradition of the eldest son being the heir. All the daughters and granddaughters would wear it at their nuptials.
Adele was to meet a cousin at the Carlton Hotel, where she was staying in Dublin. She’d made reservations in case she needed an escape. Who knew if she’d even get along with these Irish relatives or they with her?
Cousin Seamus Sullivan wasn’t particularly interested in genealogy; but he was intrigued by Adele’s Gaelic-Jewish research. He had agreed to explore the green island with her to satisfy his curiosity, and possibly to have an adventure. Seamus stood head and shoulders above run-of-the-mill greeters at Dublin International Airport. His dark rust-colored curls, full beard and mustache left no doubt that he was Adele’s cousin. That and his toothy grin at spying Adele made him a dead-ringer for her great-grandfather.
Behind the happiness of meeting his American cousin, Seamus wondered why she needed to delve into ancient family history.
“Adele, lassie, I’d almost given up on you,” he called to ensure she’d move in his direction through the pulsing sea of travelers. “Let’s get you home. Mother is eager to see you.”
“I so appreciate y’all’s hospitality, Seamus,” Adele bubbled in her Texas drawl. “And I’m so happy to see you again.” The cousins had met very briefly several years earlier in San Francisco, when he was there for a meeting with environmental activists. Adele knew she’d need a family contact on the island when she got down to serious research and fact-checking, and filed away Seamus’ contact information for later.
Seamus piled her luggage into his trunk, climbed into the driver's seat, and they sped out of County Dublin, weaving around traffic, north to the County Fingal countryside.
Sarah Greene was 75 years old and holding. "Holding" because she died three years ago.
She always had planned to move on; she’d been resolute about it when she and her daughter Adele had talked about what happens when we die. But Adele needed help with a project they hadn’t finished before Sarah fell ill and died unexpectedly. Adele and her mother had collaborated on one book that dealt with the history of Irish and Hebrew relations, and Sarah’s theory about the grail. Its publication had been delayed because of Sarah’s illness, and Adele hadn’t the heart to continue until now.
Mother and daughter possessed finely honed research and investigative skills, although their organizing styles were different. Sarah had decades of administrative and teaching experiences, and was highly organized. She’d taught blind adults and later gravitated to administrative work and writing – professionally and creatively. Adele’s style was what Sarah labeled “organized chaos.” But it worked for Adele, so she didn’t try to change her daughter.
Sarah had been fascinated when her daughter, after years of soul-searching and seemingly drifting aimlessly through life as a flower child, decided to study journalism and became a newspaper reporter. They’d even collaborated on projects for Adele’s newspaper and for Sarah’s professional-training workshops. Adele had fewer decades under her belt to use her skills, but had distinguished herself as a reporter all the same. Her mother had been impressed.
Sarah also told her daughter that after she died, Adele shouldn’t expect any contact from her. “I don’t know where I’ll be then, but I’ve had enough of this world.”
“But, Mother, wouldn’t you want me to know where you are and that you’re happy?” Adele pleaded.
“Oh, I’ll be pure energy on an adventure,” the elder woman always assured her daughter.
The world and everything beyond was so clear to Sarah after leaving her body. She only had to think about something to know it, and decided to continue helping Adele in their quest. For a while, anyway.
So Adele wasn’t surprised when she realized that the many new aspects of her search that dawned on her couldn’t be coincidence. She had the strongest feeling that they were planted by Mother. Sarah observed her daughter from a vantage point between death and eternity. As close as Adele had been with her mother, she felt Sarah’s spiritual presence when she most needed it to decide what to do. Adele wasn’t sure if she was rerunning previous conversations with her mother in her head or if her mother was communicating with her. It didn’t matter to Adele because it was comforting.
Sarah’s theory that one of the lost tribes of Judah had taken the grail to Ireland was curious. “Look at the similarities in Gaelic and Hebrew alphabets,” she told her daughter during one of their discussions at Sarah's townhouse several years before she died. Funny she should say that, Adele thought. “I’ve wondered about that same thing about the written languages, not that the grail would or could be there. Why not?” But grail stories these days were a dime a dozen, so Adele and Sarah shelved that idea until they could find a new angle.
A cousin of Sarah’s had discovered while researching family history that their family’s name had been Kohen when they arrived in Ireland. This last part was another story, confidential between mother and daughter, not something Adele planned to share with her cousins, not at first anyway. This trip to Ireland was a personal quest first, and research second.
Seamus pointed out things he thought might interest Adele along their drive to his family home. They turned off the main road and continued down a country lane. A three-story limestone house soon appeared in a clearing. The blustery day in mid-March was average for the start of spring so far north. Adele had noticed the temperature as they sped through the town. “Let’s see, 5 degrees Celsius should be about 41 at home,” she calculated from memory.
The Sullivans lived in comfort, but not what Adele considered opulence for these longtime county denizens. This wasn’t so different from home. Stands of Douglas fir, Scots Pine, and Sitka Spruce were scattered among oak, beech, holly and rowan.
Brilliant red rhododendron blossoms framed the house. She spied red squirrels and fallow deer wandering through trees to graze in the adjoining meadow. It had started to sleet on the way from the airport and the ground was taking on a white shiny coat.
The stone-and-wood house was typical of homes that stood for generations in Ireland – leaded-glass windows with a diamond shape design, moss creeping up the sides and onto the slate roof, ducks and goslings flitting toward the scullery to get first peck of the morning’s offal.
This scene reminded Adele of her grandmother flinging table scraps and kitchen garbage for her chickens and geese on her hill in Fort Worth – an extra treat that sent Nannie’s barnyard fowl fluttering in frenzy. “Some things never change,” she thought.
Sinead Sullivan, Seamus’s mother, was a grand woman who clearly ruled the roost. At first glance, she was a sturdy farm type with once-flaming red hair bunched up with what looked like a short knitting needle. “She uses the same thing to tie up her hair as I do,” Adele smiled in recognition. She also looked the very image of a person who had worked hard, then settled into genteel life. “Her first name means ‘gift of God’ in Hebrew. I wonder if she knows that.”
The elder woman was the clan’s memory, having a lifetime of her own and stories told by her parents, grandparents and various cousins, aunts and uncles. She’d know all the facts, tales, even longstanding family rumors and scandals that Adele needed to know to add pieces to her puzzle. Her great-great-grandfather and Adele’s great-great-great-grandfather had been brothers. Nobody ever talked about the Sullivans being Jewish. In fact, they were quite Protestant – Church of Ireland to be exact, both Catholic and Reform (Episcopal).
But Sarah Greene had shared revealing stories.
“When I was a little girl, I sat on my grandfather’s lap and he’d read to me,” Sarah Greene recalled. “He always read stories from the Old Testament, though. Mother told me that her daddy would drive the girls and their mother to church every Sunday when she was growing up. But he’d always sit outside the church and wait for them, never went in.”
Decades after Sarah was grown, a cousin who'd researched their family called. She’d been investigating their family tree and was excited to discover that her great-grandfather’s parents had immigrated to Ireland from somewhere in Europe. The Irish had been generous and tolerant of their Jewish faith. However, as the great-great-grandparents planned to come to America, they decided to blend in first to see how religious beliefs were tolerated in their new country. Since they were farmers, they probably wouldn’t live in and maybe not even near a big city. Still, they felt a need to be cautious.
Adele followed the matriarch and her cousin through picture-lined halls to two doors that led into a library. Some of the paintings were of stern-looking men and women who still appeared to lord over the house. Others were photographs of more relaxed-looking relatives. Adele was biting at the bit to know more about these relatives and the secrets they kept. But she knew patience would be her ally now.
Seamus pulled open heavy crimson drapes and let the sun shine in, then stoked the fire.
“Come. Sit and let me look at you, my dear,” Sinead Sullivan said in welcoming Adele. As quickly as Sinead shot a slight look in Seamus’s direction, he excused himself, leaving the women alone.
The matriarch studied Adele’s face as they sat. “You certainly have the Brennan look,” she finally said. “I met your grandmother once, and see in you a strong resemblance; did you know that?”
Adele didn’t immediately answer, remembering her grandmother combing her hair and telling her how much it reminded her of combing her own mother’s hair. Little things like that had given Adele a strong sense of belonging as a child, of being connected. That had rested in her memories her whole life.
Tinkling glass roused Adele from thought as Seamus returned with a tray of tea.
“Yes, Ma’am, Nanny used to tell me how much my hair reminded her of her mother’s when she was combing and braiding mine,” Adele said as Seamus set down the tea tray and left. “I never knew my great-grandmother though.”
“Of course not, but you have her face too – the large green eyes, nose, coloring. The resemblance is remarkable. You could be her daughter. She was a beauty in her prime.” Sinead’s voice trailed into a memory of what might have been. “If only she’d married Patrick Donohue and stayed here. If only . . .,” the lady thought, and trailed into a forgotten memory.
Annie Brennan had been courted by several very eligible swains, Irish and English. But she had higher aspirations, dreams of exploring America and all its possibilities. Annie had wanted to be a citizen of a bigger world. She’d been an avid reader of American pulp fiction accounts of the Wild West and life in the cities— New York, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco, even Texas, a vast expanse of ranches, desperados and other colorful characters.
She’d met many young Irishmen, but Annie Brennan preferred to seek out the new and lesser-known to her world. She was a rebel. So when she had a chance to take a trip to the United States with her father and mother, Annie sprang into action. She never dreamed she’d meet a young Scotsman named Ewan Campbell, and after their return to Ireland realize her dreams in America with him.
Remembering stories about her great-great-grandmother distracted Adele. She realized she’d not sipped her tea for a few minutes when her hostess cleared her throat and asked again if Adele was enjoying her tea. It was a low-tea fare with scones, cakes flavored with lemon and orange, coffee and chocolate; Victoria sponge sandwiches filled with cream and lemon curd, and “Petticoat Tail” shortbread.
“Oh, this is fantastic, truly a treat, Cousin Sinead. I may call you that, can’t I?” Adele said.
“Surely, ‘tis the best, since we are cousins,” Sinead said.