Warning – this is a long one!
First up, a bit of a Kearney history lesson for any non-Kearneys reading this… Before my grandfather (dad’s dad) passed away, he spent a great deal of time researching and recording our family history. One of his discoveries was a photo of our ancestor Pat Kearney, sitting on the Goward Dolmen on his property just outside of Hilltown in County Down, Northern Ireland. The dolmen has been there since around 2000-2500BC, but more recently it became known locally as “Pat Kearney’s Big Stone”. It was Pat Kearney’s son John who brought the family name to Australia in the 1860s. After allegedly shooting and killing the Duke of Downshire, John fled to Australia. Turns out the duke didn’t even die, but John quite liked Australia, so decided to stay. John is my great great great grandfather, so Pat Kearney, the man sitting on the Dolmen, is my great great great great grandfather. Woah.
In recent years my dad’s eldest brother Peter has created a sort of family pilgrimage to Pat Kearney’s Big Stone. And that’s what has brought me to Northern Ireland!
This story is full of ups & downs. I’m really disappointed to say it wasn’t the enriching experience I had hoped for, but I think it’s a story worth telling anyway…
It started with a long chat over breakfast with my wonderfully generous hosts at Seaview Guesthouse in Rostrevor, Martina & Brian. They were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary today. And it turns out Martina has a cousin who lives in Redland Bay – CRAZY!
Martina sent me on my way with a bag of fresh fruit, some bottled water and a motherly hug.
And then I began my journey to Pat Kearney’s Big Stone… After some last minute travel plan changes that saw me heading north while Dee & Davey went south, I was on my own. But still determined to walk the off road track to the stone! Peter had given me instructions on how to find the off road track in the Kilbroney Forest, but after an hour of trying and failing to find my way, I decided it might be safest to take the road more travelled!
I hopped back in the car and drove part way along Kilbroney Road towards Hilltown. I parked in the first spot I could find along the road (someone’s driveway – I left a note!), and set out on foot.
The first stop along the way is traditionally Downshire Arms, where you should drink a toast (preferably Guiness) to the duke’s health. I found Downshire Arms without any issues, but they’re closed on Mondays!!!!!!! Sorry duke… I kept walking.
The walk to the stone was just as Peter had written in his emails, and I found my way without any dramas. (With one wrong turn towards the end, because I missed the first “Goward Dolmen” sign… It’s totally overgrown by ferns! I was so relieved to find it when I backtracked.)
So I kept on walking along the laneway, and as promised, reached the stone at the end of the road on the left. My jaw dropped to the ground when I saw it. And not in a good way… Graffiti. On the stone. I was devastated.
Disheartened, but not willing to just leave without taking the famous Kearney photo I had travelled all this way for, I posed as best I could and got the shot.
DON’T WORRY, THE STORY GETS A LITTLE BETTER HERE!
Desperate to salvage the experience, I dragged my sorry feet off to Mary Margaret’s Horseshoe Pub, the last stop on the Kearney pilgrimage. When I arrived, the pub was open, but empty. Taking Peter’s advice, I knocked on the door of the owner’s quarters, and was greeted by a lovely old Irish fellow named Pattsy. I told him I was a Kearney from Australia and that I’d come to see the Goward Dolmen. Recognising the name straight away, he called for his sister and the pub’s namesake, Mary Margaret. They yanked me out of the pub and straight into the family kitchen where they sat me down and made me a cup of tea and a ham sandwich. I love the Irish!!
We talked about the stone – they knew about the graffiti because the same people had written the same thing on Mary Margaret’s wall at the front of the property. And get this… It’s about FOOTBALL! #UTM stands for Up The Magpies. A disgruntled fan had let loose all over town just last week, spray painting any surface they could find, no matter how old or significant. Makes my blood boil!!
I sat chatting with Mary Margaret & Pattsy for a while, and after agreeing that we should all write to the Irish Tourism Board about the graffiti on the stone, Pattsy insisted that he drive me back to my car. And so he did, beeping his horn and waving as he headed back down Kilbroney Road towards Hilltown.
And I drove onto Bushmills via the beautiful Causeway Coastal Route, happy to have had my faith in humanity restored a little by Pattsy & Mary Margaret.