I grew up in an Irish-Italian household. My mother claimed her Irish Catholic family came from County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, where Croagh Patrick, a 764-metre mountain, looms. The mountain is a pilgrimage site honouring St Patrick, who is believed to have fasted and prayed on its summit.
My dad emigrated from Fiuggi, Italy at the tender age of 9, leaving behind his hometown, a medieval city that lies about an hour southeast of Rome in the Lazio region. Famous for its Acqua di Fiuggi mineral water, the small city also boasts its own Catholic patron saint — San Biagio, aka St Blaise — who in 1298 saved the city from a foreign attack by conjuring the illusion of Fiuggi in flames, leading the marauders to abandon their attack, believing the town had already been sacked.
For many years, I thought it was all settled — I’m Irish and Italian. But wait. What? I’m British? And Turkish? And Spanish? And European Jewish? And Ulster Irish from Northern Ireland?
Yep, I had my DNA analyzed through Ancestry.com. It’s raised more questions than answers, but it’s a fascinating map into the mystery of who my ancestors were.
My dad always said we were descended from the Etruscans, the ancient civilization that settled Tuscany. He claimed our family name — Lucarelli — is Tuscan; there is even a small town in Tuscany called Lucarelli. There is some evidence the Etruscans may have been Turkish; even St Blaise was said to be born in an area that is now Turkey.
And what of my Jewish heritage? Who are the Jewish people in my tribe, and why did our Jewish heritage end?
Why am I Spanish? I know the ancient Romans invaded Spain countless times; could that be the key? Then again, members of the beleaguered Spanish Armada washed onto Ireland’s shores in 1588, starving and ragged. Did one of my beautiful, brave and somewhat saucy great-grandmothers save a dark and handsome Spanish sailor — or is that just a romantic novel in my head waiting to happen?
And why did my ancestors meander from Ulster to County Mayo, before sailing for America during the Great Potato Famine of the 19th century, bringing with them a bit of British DNA, which makes me feel an awful lot closer to The Beatles?
I came into this world interested in people (fun fact: “people” is a word from the mysterious Etruscan language). From the time I was three years old, I remember thinking that every person has a story — and I wanted to know their stories. I believe that’s why I became a writer.
And now I have a beautiful map of my ancestry, with a rich tapestry of time woven into it. I may never know all of the map’s stories, but I know one thing for sure — I have already learned from them.
In celebration of my ancestry, here are some recipes from around the world.