Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Family Tree Adventure

Yesterday I got back from a trip to Ireland, the main objective of which was further family tree research. There were two clear highlights of the trip- being shown to the tomb of my third and fourth great grandfathers of the Madden line by PJ Madden of Ballycastle, County Mayo Ireland, and realizing that I have Madden cousins in Louisiana, North Carolina and Virginia!
My girlfriend Nolwenn and I flew to Dublin on Saturday, and then rented a car and drove four hours in the rain out to County Mayo. That part of Ireland has surely seen better days- before the potato famine about 500,000 people lived there- now there are only 110,000 or so. However, it does seem to be doing okay- most of the houses were in very good condition, and I did not get the feeling that I did in parts of the former East Germany that the area was on its way to becoming a series of ghosttowns. After a night at a lovely hotel, we drove into the Maddens' ancestral hometown of Ballycastle, where one cousin, PJ Madden, still lives. Unfortunately, neither I nor the people at the North Mayo Family History Center have been able to figure out how we are related, but it seems safe to say that in a town of about 220 people, we are somehow cousins. PJ and his wife and daughter were very kind to meet Nolwenn and me on five minutes' notice. We had tea with them for half an hour and then PJ showed us to the site of the Madden tomb in the abandoned churchyard of Doonfeeny Parish. The location is even more dramatic than I imagined it- rugged pastureland for sheep farming and peat bogs, that then drop off into the Atlantic off a 100 foot cliff about 100 yards from the gravesite. The grave itself was worn, but unlike all others, was a sort of tomb enclosed by an expensive iron fence from the 1800's. This was important, because I know that Daniel Madden, my 3rd great grandfather was a wealthy landowner, but there was another Daniel Madden in Ballycastle at that time as well, who was a poor laborer. It seems highly unlikely that the laborer would have ended up in such a final resting place, so the impressive gravesite is thus evidence for the identity of my 4th great grandparents, Daniel and Sarah Madden, who are buried in the same tomb. We then had the chance to visit the town of Belmullet, about an hour's drive away, where my great-great grandmother Mary Rose was from, and where she married Joseph Madden, my second great grandfather, and the grandfather of my grandfather George Madden, who as of last Friday is 90 years young! George Madden's father was James Madden, and his son and my father is Timothy Madden, to round out the Madden line of my ancestry.
This was all a coup, but perhaps even better was that PJ told me that other Madden cousins claiming descent from the same Daniel Maddens had visited the site this past summer. These other cousins were from Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina, and he had their contact information, which he passed onto me. I was unaware of these cousins, but will call them this evening, to try and find out just how they are related to me.
Monday was then spent in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, where I combed through ancient records of Maddens, although unfortunately, I couldn't connect any of them to Daniel Madden or indeed any of the Maddens of Ballycastle. Still there was some interesting information there, and I will return to do one more day of further research in Dublin sometime next January or February.
Further updates of my genealogical quest to be included in early editions of Rhone Ramblings, come 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Little Merman & Food Matters

After posting last week's diatribe about how little there was to see in Bratislava, I received a biting rejoinder about how there was so much to do and visit in the Slovak capital (see comments under last week's entry). Granted, we hadn't brought a guidebook so I suppose with just a little more effort on our part, we could have had a far more enlightening experience in Bratislava. Still, I would recommend that the Bratislava authorities erect on the banks of the Danube a statue that would draw tourists from far and wide: The Little Merman.
Now I'm not sure what this would look like, but it seems only fair that if guys like me can fondle Copenhagen's famous Little Mermaid (which I did in fact in 2001 do) then women and gays should have a statue of their own. Again, I'll write to the Bratislava Tourism Authorities and see what happens.
Changing gears, I come to my final point for the week: now that the USA is cool in the wider world once again, why are all products horrible that have an American flag on them, or say "American-style" in Austria? Popcorn, white bread, chocolate chip cookies, whatever- it's all rotten. Given that the only other example of American food in Austria is McDonald's, I can see why Austrians think American food sucks. Please, it's not that bad, it's just that you are sadly missing out on all the good stuff (pulled-pork sandwiches, cheesecake, Cajun food, crab cakes, etc.)
In fact the only thing that's sorrier is the shape of Mexican food in Europe. You wouldn't think it's possible to screw up salsa, but then again you've never had the horrendous excuse for salsa that one gets over here. Looking forward to missing a Thanksgiving feast for the sixth consecutive year, sigh...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bratislava: Seeking attractions

Know what the hardest job in Europe might be? Head of the Bratislava Tourism Authority. Most of the times I've been to Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia and a mere 40 miles from Vienna) lately have been for cheapo Ryanair flights that fly out of its airport. Ryanair actually advertises these flights as leaving from Bratislava (Vienna). Now, it's bad enough when, say sports teams who play in New Jersey insist on calling themselves the "New York Jets" or the slightly-more-geographically-correct-but- nevertheless-appalingly-stupid "New York-New Jersey Metrostars." But in Bratislava's case, Vienna is in another country all together. And what's more, Bratislava is a national capital of a European country with about 5 million people, which would technically mean that Bratislava should be about as famous as, say Copenhagen, which also is the capital of a European country with 5 million people.
Anyway, yesterday, Nolwenn (my girlfriend), two of her friends, and I set off for a day in Bratislava. We arrived in Bratislava at 2:30pm. Nolwenn had wanted to stay until 11 originally, but I convinced her in advance to take the 9pm bus back. In the end, we took the 7pm bus back, having, well, seen basically all that there was to see. Bratislava has a lovely, well-restored old city, but its main square is basically the same size as the main square in my hometown of Ridgewood. It also has really touristy restaurants with lousy waiters who serve garlic soup in breadbowls that have the constituency of iron and the most garlicky pesto I've ever had.
So, let's put our heads together and come up with some possible tourist attractions that Bratislava could use. Answers will be posted in this space next week.