One can wonder about the nature of “family”. Certainly shared personal experience, bonds of love, common values and bonds of place are fundamental to any acceptable definition of what constitutes a family. This explains why certain faith communities, military units, political cadres, and even work groups can attain a strong sense of being families. Sometimes these groups displace or replace blood relationship-based families in the lives of individuals.
I have written before about the unique attributes of the Ferriter Family. In this context, I am defining the family in a very broad sense – that of a group of people who share certain genetic kinship, and whose history has played out with certain common forces in play. These two elements, taken alone, are not of necessity strong bonds in our shared culture. Western Europe, and the New World extension of that has grown away from placing any premium on shared history, and the notion that distant biological or genetic kinship has value also has largely been dismissed. Nuclear families and current popular idiom have displaced extended families and heritage.
In society at large, the eclipse of the sense of extended family must be regarded as a terrible loss. The term “extended family”, has now come merely to mean, parents, grandparents, children, and sometimes aunts, uncles and first cousins, (but usually not). Many people do not even know what second or third cousins are, much less who they are.
When I study the portions of the Padraig Feiritear (1856 – 1924) Family Tree that describes the state of the Ferriter Family prior to the Irish Diaspora, I am struck with a certainty that these people not only knew of each other, but in most cases actually knew each other, and knew how they related to one another. I also have no doubt, that if everyone had stayed home, that if history had been different and whole branches of the family had not left Ireland, then this sense of understanding would have remained intact to a much greater degree than it has.
I stated that the Ferriter Family has unique attributes. One aspect of this uniqueness is our small size, numerically. Another aspect of this is our close inter-relatedness, at least in a global sense. Many of us are more closely related than 5th “cousinship”, and almost everyone seems to be closer than 7th. In terms of the world population, this is like being siblings.
Now you may have deduced that I am concerned with loss of a sense of kinship, and what might be done to remedy that. We have a gulf between the Irish and the immigrants, and we also have gulfs between immigrant branches and even between branches of the family that stayed in Ireland. Yet in our family (and this is hugely important), we all know who we all are, at least by virtue of our uncommon name.
When I am confronted by a Ferriter or Feiritear, or Firtear, or Farritor who says, “We are not related”, I simply disregard that, because I am increasingly certain that such a statement is incorrect. When I am confronted by someone who says, “I don’t regard you as a part of my family”, I feel a sharp pain, because in this I see clear evidence of our shared loss, as an extended family.
We are entering a period in history of increased distress and turmoil, on many levels. In the hierarchy of loyalties that has developed through my life, “Family” has been gradually ascendant. During any time of disorder and confusion, we should be able to look both at our immediate, nuclear families as a source of stability, but also towards our extended families. I am not speaking now about sharing resources or communal efforts, but about something a bit deeper, and certainly easier to sustain – simply the sense of being a part of something larger, a larger family that has a degree of self – awareness, and a common basis for communication as a result.
Being a Ferriter, however you may choose to spell it, may never transcend loyalties of politics or faith, although for some it might. “Ferriterness” may vary by degree between individuals. For all of us, a benefit, and an increase in the fabric and texture of our lives is available if we come to awareness that we are, in fact, one family.
So, I have made all of these statements when I am five days away from traveling to an island whereupon I was not born, and have no knowledge of save through tales, books and the accounts of others. For all that, I have always tried to keep a clear eyed and realistic vision of the place, and for all of that, I do sense an affinity for this place, and for the people who have made their lives their, through hardship and famine, and who never left.
This should be an interesting trip.