In May 1884, my great-grandparents, Thomas John and Mary Burke Gibbons, gathered their Irish-born children and fled Ireland with their lives, a flicker of hope, and not much else for the open arms of America. They never returned.
It was violence — and a dream of something more than that — which propelled them across the ocean. If they had stayed, the world as they’d known it would surely have exacted a terrible toll. The brow of history is heavy with casualties of the Irish rebellion over cruel British rule.
Instead, they ran for their lives — and the story of Fight For Glory began to unfurl over decades and continents in ways that have not only inspired many in the Gibbons Clan, but paved the way for the family’s continued survival. By all reason, the decision my great-grandparents made more than a century ago allowed everything that happened next — including my very existence.
As my ancestors long ago hurled themselves across the Atlantic into a future they could not imagine, in March of 2022, I traveled their path in reverse, crossing the ocean and into a faraway past. My great-grandparents were searching for who they might become in the future. Traveling to Ireland last spring, I was looking for how the distant past paved the way for everything that would come to pass.
After spending nearly seven years mining the bread crumbs of history to tell my family’s story, it was time to dig boots into the island soil, to summon the ghosts who made possible the future in which I now live. I’d imagined this world a thousand times — read about it, seen a few faded photographs, dreamed about it constantly. But what I needed now, bringing Fight for Glory to the world, was to experience it myself: the place where it all began. Home.
My grandfather, Tommy Gibbons, made the journey once in 1920. Decades later, when he was already 70-years old, my father, Tommy Gibbons, Jr., tried and failed to locate the Gibbons Homestead.
My beloved mother, whose family line descends from County Cork, died too young to ever try. For my story, my spirit, but also for my parents, the journey to Ireland — home — was of paramount importance. I’d heard the stories, but now needed to experience them. With this much certain, I began.
THE mission to stir ghosts
Full of excitement, anticipation, and an anxious reverence, I landed in Shannon, West Ireland. In short order, I’d be on the way to County Mayo.
My rental car provided the first challenge to my quest, as I instantly forgot the rules of international driving I’d mastered long ago.
I climbed into the wrong side of the car, reached with the wrong hand for the manual gear shift, steered the car north on the wrong side of the road, duking it out with the relentless roundabouts and narrow, stone-walled highways.
According to Joseph Campbell, every hero’s journey begins with a stumbling from the gate. I’m lucky I didn’t die.
On the road to Westport, two-hours due north of where my plane touched down, the landscape was marked everywhere by my family’s crest and name: the grocer, the pub, the convenience store. As homecomings go, this one was quiet, but marvelous, a ceaseless parade of memorials to my clan.
Halfway to Westport, where great-great-uncle Mocky Dolan was reportedly a late-19th century boxing phenom, I stopped at a pub owned by Matt Molloy, a former member of the chart-topping Irish band, The Chieftains.
I ordered a milky-smooth Guinness, and was soon joined by my Cousins Gig and Barbara Kay Gibbons, who had previously explored some of these roads and family mysteries, and agreed to join me as tour guides in Ireland.
Over drinks, we confirmed our mission and itinerary: to stir the ghosts upon the Partry Mountains, which framed the family’s centuries-old homestead, and at the church in which my great-grandparents, Thomas John and Mary Burke Gibbons, were married in the 1870s.
I wanted to raise the dead, or at least meet them in the place that they once walked, and with family for company, that’s precisely what I did.