When I first heard of this DNA thing some years ago, I was very sceptical about the whole thing. It seemed incredulous, even impossible to think modern technology had discovered a way of apparently positively proving whether two people were actually genetically related or not.
You could be told that such and such a person in China or Outer Mongolia or in other far-flung parts of the world was your second or third or fourth cousin.
What was even more stunning was that a piece of a centuries old human bone could be ‘matched’ with living people. Family members said to me not to bother doing the test: “Haven’t you enough cousins already?” they suggested — a fair point — but when it comes to eking out and seeking out relations, I’m always interested.
So about a month or so ago a fellow ‘tree-roots’ searcher ordered the kit for me. It came from America, I think, well, I know it had to be sent back to Trumpland anyhow to get the various tests done. No food or drink for half an hour beforehand was really the only instructions that came. Then fill a little vial with fluid from the mouth. Another little container full of some kind of bluish stuff was then mixed in, screwed tightly and sent off to the great USA in a little box about the size of a fag packet. The whole operation cost €100. I included my email address and mobile phone number.
I must really get a second pair of glasses to use outdoors and while on the tractor. My eyesight is a bit like the town of Fermoy, ‘all to one side’; my left eye is very good while I have only about 20% in the right one. That’s always the way it has been but of late I need glasses for reading and typing and texting.
I have one of them small black mobile phones that can make and take calls and texts — what more do I need? I’m a bit old for the modern fandangled gadgets that can nearly think for you!
By day, if I’m out — especially on fine sunny days — it’s very hard to read texts without glasses, but I’m after losing and breaking more pairs of glasses in the last decade than would fund a pension for an optician.
Anyhow, I was waiting and waiting to get contact back from the DNA crowd in America. This time of year, with all the tall trees around our yard in full bloom, the internet connection for the email is woeful slow so t’was a text I was expecting.
One of them tropical days we had last week I was on the tractor about 8pm and the sun still gloriously blazing down. I got a text and you know the way you’d be squinting and holding the phone at an angle trying to read it? I kinda half made out that it said ‘Ned Sheehan is coming’ so, not being an expert in this field of genetic coupling and long-lost relationships, my mind went into overdrive about Sheehans.
I knew a first cousin of my late father married a Sheehan — but she died in 1899. I know all those offspring, or at least I thought I did. It was only then it occurred to me in the middle of a ten-acre field that my mind went into overdrive. I thought, will I have a procession of fifth and sixth cousins calling announced and otherwise from faraway places with strange-sounding names.?
I shuddered to think if my ‘results’ were made public on the worldwide web, what would life be like? Would my privacy be gone? What have I done, why didn’t I take my family’s advice and not be making a public eejit of myself?
There I was alone all alone with my random thoughts of a summer’s evening and not a biscuit in the house if Ned Sheehan should arrive with family, in-laws and possibly outlaws to greet his long lost cousin. I could imagine his Texas or New Mexican drawl: ‘Hi Joooohn, gee it’s really swell to meet y’all at last’.
Now don’t get me wrong about hospitality, sure didn’t I get an award about 20 years ago for ‘Services Rendered to Irish Tourism’? No, I’ve never said to anyone on the doorstep ‘Sorry, we’re too busy for talk today’, but I had images now of ‘relations’ — as Dana might call ’em, ‘all kinds of everything’ — calling to the house wanting selfies with their Irish cousin.
They say the Arnolds came in with the Normans but others claim that the family were a much later ‘wave’ into this country, as Cromwellian soldiers and Planters. Either of those two routes into Ireland could and probably would mean that I’d be related to a lot of what long ago might be called ‘undesirables’, but then we can’t choose our ancestors, can we?
There’s an old saying that ‘you’ve made your bed so you must lie on it’, fair enough, but I didn’t expect Sheehans, Sheas, Subutos, Salamancos and/or Sullivans from the four corners of the world to flock to Bartlemy.
Then it came to my mind that in the last 500 years or so, marriage as an institution has become very popular, but when my ninth and tenth cousins were around things were a lot more a la carte in terms of relationships and child-rearing, bearing and other affairs of the heart.
Maybe when I spat into that little sample bottle, I had, proverbially, bitten off more than I could chew!
I still couldn’t figure out the lineage of the expected visitor Ned Sheehan. I was in a fair lather and bother of sweat when I arrived back in the yard on my trusty, and thankfully not rusty, tractor.
My wife is a great hostess when it comes to catering for unexpected callers to the house. No-one ever left hungry or if they did t’was their own fault.
Now, generally speaking we don’t keep secrets from one another but to be truthful she never saw me giving my DNA sample — I reckoned there was no need to be bothering her with such matters.
Anyway, she only has a passing interest in such matters. Many years ago I broke the news to her that I thought her grandmother’s grandfather could possibly be a third cousin of my maternal grandfather’s, great, grandfather — so we might be fourth cousins twice removed — but this was never confirmed. Anyway I decided now was the appropriate time to come clean about my test and my text about this Ned Sheehan possibly calling.
She wasn’t incandescent with rage or even outrage. She took it all very calmly then demanded to see my mobile phone.
Her face was expressionless as she stared at my ‘inbox’ and then she said: “Aren’t I always telling you to get a pair of glasses for the tractor? Ned Sheehan is coming how are you,” and she handed me my only pair of glasses. “Will you read that, will ya?”
Sheepishly I took the phone and scanned the message that had been causing me grief with the last hour — it read ‘Ed Sheeran is coming’.
Still waiting for the DNA results but definitely getting the new glasses this week.