K.T. McKee

Having grown up adopted in the 1960s to early 1980s, I was never really sure where I came from. Or WHO I came from.

Sure, my red hair and freckles were a clue, but I didn’t receive “non-identifying information” about my birth parents until I made an inquiry to my New Orleans adoption agency when 19 during my own unexpected pregnancy as a college freshman.

I knew I was placing my baby for adoption later that year in 1982 and yearned for anything about my birth parents I could put in my own child’s file.

I learned for the first time my birth mother had red hair and was of Irish and English descent. My birth father had black hair and hailed from Scotland and Germany.

That was pretty much all I had to go on – until my birth mother, Shela Paul, found me in 1987 when I was 24.

From her I learned that the parents of her mother, Margaret O’Sullivan, came directly from County Kerry, Ireland.

At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to that revelation as my birth mother’s mental health struggles and the disruptions they caused our relationship prevented me from truly focusing on my ancestry then.

Tragically, her suicide four years later not only left a huge hole in my soul, but many unanswered questions about my biological family.

Years later, when Ancestry.com came online with their mail-in DNA tests, I learned not only that at least 70% of my ancestry was Ireland-based, but I gasped when I discovered that my maternal ancestors did, indeed, reside in County Kerry.

Even more amazing was the ability of the DNA connections to pinpoint the exact locations there – such as the Dingle Peninsula in the southwest corner of the Emerald Isle and small towns nearby.

From then on, I dreamed of one day going to Ireland – just to walk the land of my ancestors and pay homage to my birth mother and her mother Margaret and Margaret’s father, Edmund Cornelius O’Sullivan, and so on.

Finally, in the summer of 2019, I began making reservations for a 10-day trip to Ireland in 2020.

When that didn’t pan out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I tried again the next year, but Ireland had shut its doors to visitors.

British Airways extended my voucher to the end of this month. I knew I had to make one last attempt at my No. 1 Bucket List item.

You see, I have been fighting Stage 4 breast cancer for the past six years. And although the metastasis has remained in my bones and I’m functioning fine, who knows how much longer that will be the case.

It was now or never.

I finally stepped on that green, green grass on St. Patrick’s Day and it was more beautiful than I had ever imagined.

I was fortunate enough to have an old friend in Dublin help me get acquainted with my rental car, navigating the left side of the road and surviving the many, many roundabouts during the two days I stayed with her before heading out on my own.

From Dublin I explored Galway, the Great Atlantic Way, and then soaked in the Dingle area, imagining the O’Sullivans singing in local pubs or tending to sheep on the rolling hills and narrow country roads.

There were plenty of O’Sullivans scattered across the land – too many to investigate. I’ll never know if I actually spoke to a bonafide relative or not.

Two older gentlemen enjoying a pint in the small town of Milltown where my great-grandfather, Edmund O’Sullivan, supposedly resided back in the 1870s told me there were O’Sullivans on their mother’s side, too.

We laughed and I went on my merry way.

What I thought were my last two nights in Dublin with my friend Linda turned into an extra six days of COVID captivity after testing positive the day before I was to fly back home.

Linda put me back in her guest room and would not let me out for fear of her young daughter and husband catching it. She went grocery shopping for me with my credit card, brought me meals and did some of my laundry.

I was actually quite lucky I had someone to stay with for free and I will be forever grateful.

I sent several videos and photos of my journey to that son I’d given up for adoption some 39 years ago. Our relationship has grown every year since finally meeting in 2016 after my cancer diagnosis.

He and his two young children in Gulfport, Miss., can now benefit from my discoveries and perhaps make it to Ireland themselves one day.  

• K.T. McKee is a writer for The Blackshear Times. Reach her at katemckee2011@gmail.com.