The Daily Times page 2

click an image to enlarge
The Four Corners News

McDonnell said he wrote a story especially for the Aztec Highland Games. He said he will tell funny, entertaining stories and legends from ancient Ireland.

One of the things he commonly speaks about when touring is the origin of surnames.

"People almost always took the name of their clan," he said.

For example, his last name signifies that he is from the Donnell clan, which originated on the north east coast of Ireland and from part of Scotland. The name has multiple spellings including MacDonnell and O'Donnell. While there are multiple English spellings of the last name, McDonnell explained there is a single Gaelic spelling that was translated into English multiple times by people of varying literacy. Regional accents also resulted in different spellings of the name.

In addition to learning the history of his last name, he eventually discovered why his family left Ireland
"Conditions were pretty bleak," he said.

The Irish land had been confiscated, pushing families onto small lots with just enough land to grow potatoes.

In the mid-1800s, the potato blight hit Ireland, causing about 1 million people to die of starvation and another 2 million to leave the country in search of a better life.

One of these 2 million emigrants was McDonnell's great-grandfather.

Despite having grown up in the United States, McDonnell feels a connection to his ancestral homeland and said it is important for people to learn about their ancestors because it gives them a connection to the past, both positive and negative, including knowing about relatives who suffered grievances like slavery.

"When you connect to your past you see the pluses and the minuses," he said.

He said our ancestors can impact who we are today because of how our parents were raised and how they, in turn, raised their children. He said people are the way they are because others, including their ancestors, have made them that way.

"That tells us and reminds us what we do today shape the future," he said. "I just see connections between what we do and how it affects the future."