An Arnold who’s a U.S buddy of Trump? Hope we’re not related

There's an Arnold blazing brightly on the American political scene - but is she any relation, asks John Arnold?
An Arnold who’s a U.S buddy of Trump? Hope we’re not related

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, nee Arnold, is a supporter of Donald Trump. John Arnold hopes they are not related!

A MUSICIAN friend of mine, Steve Collins, and his wife called on Monday afternoon last. They were just after spending a wonderful seven days at ‘Willie Week’ in Milltown Malbay in Clare - the 50th Willie Clancy Summer School.

Though I’m not a musician, good, bad or indifferent, and have long since abandoned any ideas I once had of learning Mrs Crotty’s concertina, I will forever have a gra for every aspect of Irish culture.

I would have loved to have been in West Clare on Sunday, when Cór Cúil Aodha, under Peadar Ó Riada, sang and played for morning Mass.

When I see or hear Peadar, I’m immediately transported back to Ó Riada sa Gaiety. That was in 1963 when I was just six years, old but even at that age I think I loved everything Gaelic and Irish.

It would have been a few years later, when I left ‘Miss Hennessy’s Room’ in our local National School, that I came under the tutelage of Donal Lehane in the ‘Master’s Room’, and I discovered the link that united Sean and Donal.

Donal was a native Irish speaker from the Muskerry Gaeltacht, and before I left National School, John Reidy had come to West Cork and immersed himself in that unique culture of caint, ceol agus craic.

Ah yes, gan dabht I still feel greatly influenced by these two great men -one I knew well and the other whom I never met.

That culture still survives, though under threat from the Americanisation and globalisation of our universe in modern times.

Just last week, the Government of Quebec, that unique French-speaking part of Canada, introduced a raft of rules and regulations to improve and preserve their French heritage. They have noticed their ‘Frenchness’ waning and decided enough is enough.

In Ireland, sadly, we still seem very ambivalent and lukewarmish to our native tongue and our ‘duchais’!

In school in St Colman’s, I never found Peig (the life story of Peig Sayers) full of bochtanas agus cruatain (poverty and hardship), yerra no, sure ‘twas just a very vivid description of life on an island in her time - there was way more rain in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes!

Anyway, I am ‘wandering’ a bit, forgive me, but some day I too hope to get to the Willie Clancy Week in West Clare, like the Collins’ did last week

Steve is fairly proficient with the bagpipes, learned over many years. Last week, in Milltown, he took classes on the tin whistle and said he had a brilliant tutor. He left Clare on the Monday morning with a pep in his step and a solemn vow to return.

It was back around 2017 I first came not contact with Steve. He was on a dual-purpose mission in Ireland. Growing up in Biloxi in Mississippi in southern USA, he was aware of his Irish heritage, but like so many others he had never actually ‘traced’ his lineage.

His cousin Paul had researched a rough family tree, and armed with this information, Steve came to Ireland. His wife is big into Irish dancing and, along with Steve’s love of music, a trip to Milltown was combined to visiting Cork - the county of his ancestors - they also visited Scotland where his wife’s people came from.

I can’t recall who gave Steve my name, but one word led to another and so we met in the month of June, five years ago.

When he told me his ancestors came from a place called Mullin-Au-Tara in this parish, well, I knew immediately he was ‘one of the Collins’ from Mullentoura’. That was grand, but once upon a time there were nine or ten different Collins families in this townland of 953 acres bordering Ballyhooley parish!

In olden time, the different branches of the Collins clan were known by different nicknames - some descriptive and other less complimentary! Still, in 2017, there are myriad Collins homesteads in the townland.

In fairness to cousin Paul, he had some ‘digging’ done. Soon we discovered Steve’s direct ancestor was one William Denis Collins, born in May, 1819. 

He married a lady named Susan Collum, or Cullen. They ended up in Biloxi and both died in the 1890s.

We made a few enquiries, shook a few ‘trees’, and before long Steve met some of his direct Irish relations -third cousins, I think. Steve was just so glad to renew friendships. He and his wife were ‘on a high’ on Monday! They’d experienced the Coolea Choir on Sunday morning and then went to a three-hour Joanie Madden Concert in Milltown on Sunday night! Truly, they imbibed the culture when they were here.

They didn’t meet any Collins cousins this visit, as they were just passing through their ancestral parish on Monday evening when they dropped in to us.

With the silage made and the hay baled, we had plenty time for talk. Well, wait til I tell ye, emails and Skype are surely mighty, but sitting in the shade of a roasting July afternoon in Ireland, chatting with Mississippians, that bates Banagher altogether!

“When are ye folks coming out to Mississippi?” they asked. well, we promised that once we win the national Lotto or our local GAA Club’s jackpot, we’ll be Southern bound in a week!

They spoke of life in Biloxi and the Deep South of America - I still tend to think of it through the lens of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. All’s changed, utterly changed there these days.

We steered away from Bush/Biden talk as we reflected on the journey his people had taken from Ireland in tough times.

It was in the year of 1844 that William Collins had wed Susan. Maybe they were neighbours, maybe they were childhood sweethearts, maybe they ‘took the boat’ to England together. We’ll never know for sure, but it was in Liverpool in the month of November, 1844, that their marriage took place.

Subsequently, they made the arduous sea-journey to America, a five to six week journey at the time.

There may be still a great many of the Collins clan occupying ancestral acres in Mullentuora, but according to Steve, there’s literally ‘hundreds of them in the USA - all descended from William and Susan’.

Now Steve has returned to Biloxi, I must get him to do some searching for me as regards American Arnolds.

The most famous, or should I say infamous, bearer of the name is surely Benedict Arnold. A brave Major General in the American Army during the Revolutionary War in the 1780s, Arnold then defected to the British side and his name and the word ‘traitor’ are inextricably linked.

I think ‘twas Benjamin Franklin said “Judas betrayed one man, Benedict Arnold betrayed three million”!

Now another Arnold is blazing brightly on the American political firmament! Kristi Noem, Governor of South Dakota State, was born Kristi Arnold in 1971. Her father Connie died in a farm accident a few years back. He is reputed to have had a Norwegian background - my DNA showed up about 6% of my ancestors were Norse! An ally of Trump, the bould Kristi is tipped as a possible presidential candidate in the 2030s.

Steve Collins said he’d do a bit of research into her Arnold ‘pedigree’ when he returned Stateside - I said ‘No’, leave well enough alone!

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