On an unseasonably warm day in late May in the rural village of Sneem, Ireland, John D. Delahanty began to beat the pavement with his tightly laced sneakers in hopes of completing the JFK 50 Mile Challenge.
Delahanty, a lawyer and lobbyist of Portland, Maine waged a battle with the miles that lay before him. Despite his upbeat attitude and the friendly smile draped across his mouth, you could see the determination in his piercing eyes.
The walk began in the early muggy and slightly foggy hour of 5 a.m. in the center of Sneem’s South Square. Delhanty and the rest of the walkers stood together at the starting line, waiting to being their collective, yet very individual, journeys of emotional and physical endurance.
Delahanty’s personal journey began 2,777 miles away, at his home in Maine, U.S.A., where he lives with his wife and children. In the past few years John has actively ventured to Ireland in order to regain some clarity on his family heritage and history. During his time traveling to Ireland, he has become an extended community member that welcomes him with open arms every time he arrives.
In 2002, Delahanty reunited with relatives of Sneem for the first time at a family reunion. After doing some research. He found out that he has a second cousin that resides in the outskirts of Sneem and that his grandfather was born in Sneem as well. His great great grandfather on his father’s side came to Sneem in the 1850’ s and this was one of the primary reasons for Delahanty’s trip to Ireland this time.
During his time in Ireland, Delahanty visited County Tipperary in order to better understand his heritage and family’s historical presence in Ireland. By doing so, he gained insight into his great great great grandparent’s history which he displayed with great pride with a warm joyful smile as he spoke.
As he approached the seven mile marker, he reflected on the ways in which his family history has impacted his own life journey.
“I have brought three of my four children over to give them perspective on where they come from,” Delahanty said.
Delahanty spoke in a very candid and upbeat tone as he explained his joy that his children had the opportunity to better understand their family history.
Although Delahanty hadn’t known much of his family’s history until early 2000, he had followed in his family’s career path without actually being aware that he was. Members of his family have served as Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers, which were Ireland’s major police force from the early 19th century, until 1922. Ironically, Delahanty had followed his family’s legacy of practicing law enforcement through law without having any knowledge. His great grandfather had eight children, most of whom had moved to the States in search of better opportunities.
During his research, he also found a great deal of information out about his mother’s side of the family, the Clifford’s, who also have ties to Sneem. Jeremiah Clifford, Delahanty’s great great grandfather immigrated to the States during the famine in order to provide for his family.
“I haven’t done much research on the Clifford side of the family but, I intend on returning back to Ireland soon to better understand my heritage,” Delahanty said.
Delahanty has gained a vast knowledge of the geographical area and customs of Ireland due to his travels across the pond. He displayed his knowledge of the area while walking by recalling information about the local area. A half mile before the 13 mile marker, Delahanty pointed to a valley in the distance to explain the farming pastures in Ireland.
As Delehanty approached the 13 mile mark, he reflected on the miles he’d already walked and why walking this path in Sneem was an important part of his personal journey.
“I believe this walk is an amazing opportunity for Sneem. The proceeds aid the community of Sneem and adds to its sense of community. And on a personal level it allows me to be part of a community I have historical roots embedded in,” said Delahanty.
Despite the long distance between Portland, Maine and Ireland. Delahanty still feels a gravitating force that makes him return to Ireland. His strong kinship with the community of Sneem and his family ties have him longing to return when he returns home to Maine.
Delahanty explained that his family has also had a history of farming in Ireland. Part of his family had to endure the famine and some left due to the hardships of the time. He explained that due to the geology and soil of the area it was very difficult to produce vegetables and other produce. This made it very difficult for his family to prosper and to keep food on the table.
“During every visit to Ireland, I gain more and more information on my heritage and family. This is one of the primary reasons I visit so frequently when I have the means to do so,” he said.
His long and grueling journey did not snuff out his enthusiastic outlook because he enthusiastically talked about his future plans to return to Ireland with a smirk on his face.
At 11 a.m. Delahanty crossed the 20 mile threshold reaching Molls Gap. While overlooking the brilliantly sunlit green valley, he removed his tweed cap and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
Although Delahanty did not complete the entire 50 mile challenge, he admirably completed this first 20 miles almost effortlessly.
“I never intended to make it so far on the walk. I’m honestly satisfied with how far I have come,.” said John. It was if he was talking simultaneously about the miles he had just walked as well as the journey he’d taken to learn of his family’s past.