Colleen joined The Gathering, Ireland’s call to expatriates and their descendants to return to the homeland in 2013, after our Rick Steves’ tour ended and we trekked back across Ireland to Ballyshannon and her family home Cavangarden House.
The Atkinson family moved from Yorkshire to Ballyshannon during the Ulster Plantation, and William Atkinson became one of 12 Burgesses who controlled the Ballyshannon corporation under Royal Charter from King James I. The family lived and prospered in County Donegal until 1968 when the last surviving direct descendent passed on leaving Cavangarden House to a friend. The Atkinson family had strong ties to Trinity College in Dublin, and successive generations practised Law in Ireland’s Legal system participating in many landmark trials as depicted in etchings that hung in Cavangarden.
With keen interest in her heritage, Colleen discovered that Cavangarden House had become a bed and breakfast and thus a stay in the ancestral home became a central aspect for our Ireland travel plans. Agnes, the current owner, welcomed us warmly and provided Colleen with many insights into her family’s history in Ballyshannon. We walked the grounds, thumbed through books once owned by Colleen’s cousins and marvelled at the etchings depicting their prominent role in Donegal and Irish history.
We journeyed out to the local Protestant Church to visit the Atkinson family plot, and walked through fields to the tumble downed remains of Kilbarron Castle tracing Colleen’s routes in the region. It was fascinating to watch Colleen as she joined the dots of her family history in the region, and while we only scratched the surface we know a longer stay in Ireland is in our future to dig deeply into that heritage.