In a Suburban Churchyard

A reprise to a summer's day from my childhood, for the next generation


This year, almost forty years after that first trek, I found myself searching through headstones again. I had brought my own family back to my home country, and in the course of planning the trip, in which I wanted to show my son some Irish castles to compare with the Japanese ones of which he was such a fan, one of the day trips I planned was to Malahide Castle, on the north side of Dublin. Checking out the route on Google maps, I found that we would pass right by Balgriffin Cemetery; the resting place of my own grandparents, and I realized immediately that this had to be a part of the trip. 


I had last visited Balgriffin some years before, with my father, when the increasing rarity of my trips home led me to think it was time to tie up loose ends, and pay some last respects; a final greeting to a heritage I would no longer be able to experience first hand due to the distance.


So on this day I had found the graveyard, but just like forty years ago, my knowledge of the exact location of the grave was dim. I checked with cousins and got a few pointers, and once we got there vague memories came trickling back, but in the end my children had to help me find the exact location. After a few minutes of systematically checking the names on each stone, some of which were similarly illegible to that graveyard in Mayo long before, my daughter called over to me from one corner of the field. She had found it!


Just like forty years before we spent some minutes clearing weeds, and cleaning it up, and when done, we stood at the foot of the grave, placed our hands together and bowed our heads in silent prayer, as is the Japanese way, to pay respects to those who have gone before us.


We also tried to find the grave of my aunt, who had passed in January of this year. This was in a newer part of the cemetery, to which I had never been, and I had no vague memories to rely on. The children were keen to explore, but the biting wind and my promise to show my children a real Irish castle drained my will, so we returned once more to my Grandfather's plot, left the flowers an a "message" with him, and went on to explore Malahide Castle.


Later in the week we also took time to visit the grave of another uncle, my godfather, who I had never had a chance to visit since his death some 25 years previously. I won't call it a highlight, but it was good to correct an omission that had been left uncorrected too long.


It may seem morbid to focus on visiting graves during a family trip to my homeland, but it is not. To the Japanese, one of the most important things to do when returning to your homestead is to pay homage to the departed. Indeed, they return home to report weddings and childbirth, and the summer holiday of "Obon" is all about bringing the departed spirits of family members home for a visit. So my children were well used to the concept of visiting their deceased relatives, thanks to many visits to my wife's family plot, and they showed appropriate respect when the graves were found. 


One of the objectives of bringing my children to Ireland was to give them a sense of belonging there too, a taste of the other heritage they also possess along with their Japanese roots. And it worked; in the days that followed, as we drove around the Dublin and Wicklow countryside, they were full of questions about the country, the people, my family - their family.


Now that they are back in Japan, I hope they will think more often, and more fondly, of the other place in this world that they can call home. A part not only of their past, but also, maybe, of their future.


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