Connecting with Your Irish Ancestors
Whether they are real—and you are Irish—or not
Illustration Credit: Stones of Newgrange by Denise Labadie
Bloodlines are important, and an understanding of family ties, bonds, history, and each root and branch of our physical family tree can help provide a firm foundation from which to build. But what of spiritual ancestry? What of the deep-seated desire that burns in so many of us for a land, a tribe, a culture from which we have no discernible descent?
I am Irish. It’s a simple statement, an understanding that one originates from a small green island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Irish people have always been explorers, travellers, hard workers, and adventurers who sailed and settled throughout the globe. Ireland’s blood reaches far and wide, but Irish culture, Irish heritage, weaves an even wider net over the world. And Irish spirituality sings a pure siren song, even for those whose physical ancestry does not seem to tie in with this land.
What harm? Irish mythology is rich with “invasions” of other cultures, blended into a fine tapestry through time. We are a multicultural stirring pot; so whether your grandmother was from Connemara, or Colorado—if the spirit of Irish ancestry stirs your soul, you can explore it. Here’s how.
Your Ancestor’s Altar
First, create a special place in your home or garden, welcoming to ancestral spirits. A quiet corner is good, with a table or a shelf, and an area in front where you can sit facing it. The space should be as tech-free as possible, and if it’s unavoidable, you can place plants or salt rock warmers to clear any negative energies.
In this clear space, think about what your ancestry means to you. Go there, with a notebook and pen, sit with eyes closed, and observe what initial thoughts surface when you turn your mind to your ancestors. What names surface? Associated places? Physical characteristics? Moods or personalities? Family events? Memories, stories, or anecdotes?
Then open your eyes and take written note of what you thought or felt. Let this be the basis of your ancestral actions. For many of us, not all things associated with family and ancestry are positive, or even easy to remember and think about. Take note of this too, let it flow through you as much as you can, observe it, record it. Sometimes, it can be just as important to understand the parts of our past that we do not want to incorporate into ourselves, as this leads to a clearer path to determine who we do want to be.
Some of your memories and thoughts on ancestry will be related to death, and so, dark or shadowed. But remember that it is within the darkness that seeds first grow; it takes the absence of light to bring forth hope, and new life nourished by the old.
Looking at your notes, begin to gather items and physical triggers or representations related to your ancestry. This could be photographs, family crests, memorabilia, or souvenirs—anything that relates in your mind, or resonates in your spirit, with your ancestral memories. Take your time, gather or remove things as seems right to you. Aim for deep quality resonance over sheer quantity of items.
Finally, place a trio of small items at the front of your ancestral altar to represent the three worlds of Earth, Sea, and Sky—clustered in a triple spiral formation around a central point of fire, even a simple tea-light candle for safety.
Spend some time at your ancestral altar weekly at least, but preferably every day. Sit quietly and absorb, meditate on the items and their resonance, move and change things around, as you will over time. This is your space for inspiration and balance—life and death, cohabiting and calm.
“Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin”
Neel ane tin-tawn mar thu hin-tawn fayn
(There’s no hearth like your own hearth)
- Choose an ancestor—whether blood relative or spiritual predecessor—and begin to form a specific relationship with her or him.
- Place a photograph on your altar, along with a sample of handwriting, small personal item, or anything else that may form a direct physical link.
- Light the flame at the center of the three worlds, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply, imagining yourself at the center of the worlds, holding the flame in your core.
- Think of this internal flame as your hearth fire, which you have sat down by. Invite your ancestor to come and sit by your hearth with you. Picture them clearly in your mind, and use your own words, whatever feels most comfortable. You are inviting them for a chat, not formally evoking their presence.
- If they don’t show up at first, don’t worry. Sometimes it takes a wee while to establish a connection and form a pathway. You keep showing up every day, and extend the invitation regularly. They’ll get there.
- When they do, you can have a chat. Ask a question, share a story, get their perspective or advice on a matter. Listen, remember, and be respectful.
- When you’re done, thank them and say goodbye. Stay sitting, and let them leave your space before you do.
- Then you can take a few minutes by your hearth yourself. Look at the fire, and see it as the candle flame on your altar. Breathe deeply, and feel your body sitting by your altar. Move, and open your eyes.
- Write your notes!