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Long-lost cousins turned fast friends

Katie Carpenter, 11, with a Connemara pony in Connemara National Park in County Galway. Katie Carpenter, 11, with a Connemara pony in Connemara National Park in County Galway.

WHO: Ann Carpenter, 50, and her daughter, Katie, 11, of Concord.

WHERE: Ireland.

WHEN: Two weeks in July.

WHY: Carpenter, whose maiden name is Bonner, had an Irish father and half-Irish mother, "but I knew nothing about my relatives when I was growing up. My mother took me to southern Ireland when I was 13, and I went again when I came home from the Peace Corps. I kept saying, 'I have to go back.' "

BLOOD IS THICK: From a cousin in New Jersey she hadn't seen in 25 years, Carpenter learned about relatives she hadn't known existed. "So my father's 85-year-old cousin invited us to stay with her because she had been named after my grandmother, who she had never met, and because she had always heard such good things about my father, who died 25 years ago." The cousin lived in Dungloe, in County Donegal, the same town Carpenter had stayed in by chance on her last visit.

DRIVING DANGERS: Carpenter and her daughter flew into Knock International Airport in County Mayo and rented a car from there. "I was really nervous about driving on the other side of the road," she said. "I had nightmares about it and thought about it constantly. I paid through the nose for an automatic because between the hills and the shift being set up the opposite way, I figured it was worth it." She did end up on the wrong side once, "but there were hardly any cars on the road. I was lucky, and the people are pretty polite."

DEEP IN SHEEP: They took several days to reach Dungloe, with no set plans. "In Kilcar, Donegal, for 20 euros each we had a view to die for, of the bay and the ocean beyond. We hiked the Slieve League, the tallest sea cliff in Europe." They drove over rolling hills, "with sheep everywhere. My daughter could not get her fill of photographing sheep."

FAMILY FUN: Dungloe looked unfamiliar. "It's doubled in population in 20 years." She knew that her cousin worked at a chemist's shop, or pharmacy. "But then I caught on that she is the chemist. She went to pharmacy school back before most women went to college. Now she sometimes supervises at her son's stores. We got along very well and had lots of family stories," said Carpenter, who had made a photo album of American relatives for her cousin. "We met all these other cousins, with gorgeous houses and horses in the backyard. Katie got to go riding. We stayed six days, and she wanted us to stay longer."

IRISH FARE: When not with family, mother and daughter played tourist. They visited Glenveagh National Park and Glenveagh Castle, and went to a medieval banquet at Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara. In Galway, they were treated to fiddle music on the street. They toured Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey, and spent a day on the Aran Islands, where they rode bikes on a path along the coast and took a short ride in a horse cart. Carpenter called the trip "utterly priceless. Before, I had no idea of my background. We don't have many relatives here. Now I feel like, oh, there they are."


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