Donna Troy Cleary

3. Preparing for Ireland

Donna ClearyComment

Ireland changed me in a profound way.  I've thought about going for some time but my thoughts circulated around an abstract idea of being awed by the landscape and family.  While talking to Brigita Varradi and Peter Fulop at a residency this past summer, they mentioned another residency in Ireland that they had attended. I asked if they would recommend me; they did and I was awarded two weeks at the beginning of March.

I was interested in the stories and methods of Irish herbalism and wondered if there were plants and processes that differed from my teacher in Brooklyn who is from Guyana.  

While researching Irish Herbalism, I discovered that my interest had a genetic source.  I came across a paper that said the Troy family, (Ó Troighthigh) ran an herbal medical school from 1400-1700.  The school was closed when it became illegal for Catholics to have a profession or be educated.  

As my trip approached I started reaching out to herbalists near the residency so I could meet with them.  One herbalist wrote back and said she would be glad to meet but that I should get in touch with Rosari Kingston, an expert in Irish Herbalism and someone versed in medicine from the period of time my family was involved.  I contacted Rosari and she invited me to come stay at her home in Skibberine at the end of my residency.  (My father's family left out of Skibberine during the potato famine.)  Of course, I was thrilled.  I re-read the article and discovered that Rosari had written it!  And everything else I had read about Irish herbalism!!  Turns out Rosari is the preeminent herbalist in Ireland, researching and writing, so it can move from the margins into mainstream biomedicine.  

While staying with Rosari, I learned that the name Lee (my mother's maiden name and one of my middle names) is a derivative of the name Leighis which is the Gaelic word for medicine.  The Leighis family was also a family of physicians from the early Medieval period in Munster, Ireland.

That was the beginning of a series of coincidences that shaped this trip.  

Rosari on her property with her donkey and husband (off to the left).

Rosari on her property with her donkey and husband (off to the left).