E explores Edinburgh and Ennis

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

E is for Edinburgh, Scotland

Sunset lights up Calton Hill. © P Cass 2010

This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas.  A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.” Alexander McCall Smith, 2006

This quote was written on the side of an inner-city building when we visited Edinburgh again in 2010 and I imagine that Edinburgh is one of the places many people would have on their bucket list. I’m not entirely sure that I feel completely at home there…it is beautiful, or perhaps imposing, but the greyness of the buildings is always something of a shock coming from a sunny country full of blue skies.

Still I love walking on the streets and hearing the skirl of the pipes, even if it is rather touristy. I’d be more than happy to have the opportunity to live in Edinburgh for a while….imagine being able to sit in the archives as often as you like, or to see those days where the skies are a beautiful blue!

Despite having visited a few times over 40 years, I’ve rarely played the tourist. My time has invariably been occupied in the various family-history-related repositories. Thanks to the wonderful online access provided by ScotlandsPeople (SP), my most recent visit “freed” me a little to have a look around. I think I should have shares in SP as it’s by far cheaper to obtain digital copies of original records so that a real visit can be so much richer (hmm perhaps richer is not what I mean!). On my last visit I spent happy hours in West Register House (now closed) where the staff were wonderfully helpful and I could trawl kirk session records to my heart’s content…I’m looking forward to them becoming available online.

I loved the words on this memorial to a recent mariner who lost his life at sea. The words are the essence of what we aim for as family historians. Click on the photo to read the words.

Apart from the joys of archives, I have another reason for visiting Edinburgh. My ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, and his ancestors before him, lived in Leith which is Edinburgh’s port. Once, not all that long ago, it was a bit rough, ready and run-down but these days gentrification has come calling. There are expensive apartments being built near the Water of Leith, two Michelin-starred restaurants, and historical monuments including one honouring Australia’s, and Leith’s, Governor John Hunter. What remains constant in my visits are the grey skies. Only once or twice have I seen glimpses of blue skies, even though there’s evidence on the internet that such days exist…I’m sure they can’t all be photo-shopped. I love having a link to this earthy port with its tough maritime industry to which my family contributed for a very long time. Many of my ancestral family members are buried in the South Leith churchyard but of course, not being wealthy, I’ve found no gravestones. How coincidental that having just logged into my family history program, I’ve discovered today is the 158th anniversary of the birthday of my Leith-born ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin.

Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.
This was one of those rare sunny days between the grey so we went to the Botanic Gardens instead of Leith …what was I thinking to not put family history first!

One of the luxuries of our last visit was visiting the Impressionist Gardensexhibition which was wonderful. The Botanic Gardens had a related theme with certain areas of the Gardens highlighting aspects of some of the paintings. We really loved it and had a great time wandering for hours. Actually this was a beautiful “blue sky” day so perhaps we should have prioritised Leith instead of just having fun.One evening we took a trek to the outskirts of Edinburgh to hear a great traditional band, Fiddlers Bid, from the Shetlands. The music was fantastic, but some of the commentary was lost to us in the broad accents.

We also wandered around the old town looking for where another ancestor had lived and saw this sign. I’m not entirely sure I understand what it truly means, but I know I really like it…Alastair Grey himself does have an explanation of it here. Will Scotland vote for Independence I wonder?

My husband is a die-hard rugby union fan, as am I, and we love to watch Scotland play if for no other reason than to listen to Flower of Scotland and belt it out in our lounge room. Sadly the playing infrequently lives up to the music. I had a Scottish rugby union jersey for the 2003 World Cup which I wore in Ireland…I kept wondering why people were looking at me strangely. Mind you, I can get behind Ireland’s Call with a similar level of enthusiasm.

E is for Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland

Ennis has no direct links to my Irish ancestry but oral history suggests that at least my 2xgreat aunt was familiar with Ennis, but whether before or after her sisters’ departure for Australia is unknown. Broadford, their home town, was on the Bianconi route between Limerick and Ennis so perhaps they were able to travel to Ennis for the markets or similar.

For me, Ennis is the home of the Clare County Library and the adjacent Clare Local Studies Centre. I’ve sung their praises so often in my blog so there’s little need to repeat myself and yet I can’t resist. What a great job these people do, and how wonderfully innovative and creative they can be because of the forward-thinking of the powers-that-be above them. Thanks to them Clare family historians are infinitely better served than those with ancestry in other Irish counties. Thank you, I love using the site and I loved visiting in person even more!

It’s funny the things that stay in your mind about a place: the truck jammed under a bridge on the way into town; the welcome and helpfulness of the research staff at the Local Studies Centre; finding the death certificates for my Mary O’Brien’s parents even without known death dates; the river that runs beside the centre of town so that you can have lunch in a café and watch the swans go by; the old narrow streets with their medieval feel; the school kids hogging the footpath as they do the world over; an anniversary dinner in the Old Ground hotel; updating my suite of topographical Irish maps; ginger bath gel for the unheard-of travelling luxury of a hot bath; cash deliveries to the banks complete with machine-gun-toting security guards and multiple armoured vans (this chicken colonial chose to duck into the Vodaphone shop…I’m sure there was something I needed…or not).

I’d love to show you some of my own photos of Ennis, but for the life of me I can’t find them, so have a look at what they have to say at the official website. I think the next time I visit I might take this rather intriguing walking tour…we think Mr Cassmob’s Clune ancestors may have come from Ennis, perhaps we’ll learn more.

15 thoughts on “E explores Edinburgh and Ennis

  1. I have never traveled much, but once I had the opportunity to go to Scotland. The history called me to me all the time. In fact, one of my very few attempts at poetry came from that trip.


    1. Ah, Joan, I really loved that poem. It spoke to me a lot and made me think of my Dad confined to the house in his emphysema days (train coal dust, not just smoking). What wonderful letters these must have been. I can cope with crooked politicians, smog and so on, but like your uncle, and my Dad, it was the pelicans that did me in. One of my favourite birds, I would be a danger if I knew who did something like that. Thank you.


  2. I could relate to your description of Edinburgh. I am afraid many Scottish towns have that “grey auld toon” look. I was in the city for a short break a month ago, and, though chilly, it was lovely and sunny and looking up from Princes Street Gardens to the castle and the historic buildings on the skyline was magnificent. The Royal Botanical Gardens have always been one of our favourite spots and I am pleased you at least saw them on a good day. . .


    1. Oh to live so close that I could have a short break there..I could cope with the greyness better then. Yes, somehow Scotland does more grey than Ireland, for example, which paints its houses white or colours to compensate. But I do feel at home in Scotland, weird isn’t it. Yes I was conflicted over the gardens…spend time just enjoying or dash to Leith for photos. Perhaps I didn’t really expect the sunshine to last 😉


  3. I love Edinburgh. Perhaps my favourite big city. I love the feel, the smell, the sound, the history. Well, to be honest, I miss the smell of the auld reeky lums now that everyone is on gas heat rather than coal. I am heading there again in 4 short weeks. This time, I won’t be wandering the streets as much. Like you, I will be tucked into the kirk session records to find those lost gems of history about my forebears.


  4. Despite being half Scottish (and half English), and spending 4 years in St Andrews as a student, the weather up there drove me insane. Oh, the rain, the endless, endless rain! And the grey, lowering skies… Admittedly, when it’s sunny, Scotland probably has some of the best beaches in the world (assuming you’re not afraid of frostbite, of course). My dad now lives in Perthshire and you’ll be amazed to learn that on Christmas Day last year (2011), when I was actually there with my daughters, it was not only sunny with blue skies all day, but the top daytime temperature was 15°C (remember, this is SCOTLAND on Christmas Day…), lowest nighttime temperature 10°C. Absolutely crazy. In fact, the weather was better than here in my adopted home of Montpellier in the south of France.
    I do, however, heartily recommend that you make a trip to St Andrews next time you’re in the area; it’s small but wonderful and steeped in history and legend! (For a quick glimpse, watch the famous opening scene from the 1980s film, “Chariots of Fire”. The film says the guys are running along the beach in Kent, but it’s not true, it’s St Andrews!)


    1. I’ll have to take your tip on St Andrews despite neither of us “doing” golf. I envy you France, and Montpelier, though truth be told I love living in Oz -I just want to be able to travel for long periods 😉 It’s the grey skies, I agree, do your head in…too spoiled by sunshine.


      1. St Andrews has to be the coldest place on earth – next to the North Pole. The winds are horrendous and I truly don’t know how they can golf there. I was hunkered down in the corner of the graveyard to get away from the wind. The West coast of Scotland tends to get less rain and more sunshine, It is in the path of the gulf stream and therefore the temperatures are more moderated. Watch, now that I have said that I will get three weeks of rain when I am there next month!


  5. Hi!
    Stopping by from the A to Z list. You reeled me in with the mission statement since my hubby is Australian and migrated to the USA. Like your DH mine is a die hard rugby fanatic. =)
    Happy Blogging!


    1. hi Holly, Thanks for dropping in and your great comments. We went to Iona on our last trip when we visited Mull for the first time..it was so peaceful. I’ve had a quick dip into your blog which looks fascinating so will have a good look when I’ve finished F is for…. Happy Easter, Pauleen


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