Ulster, in particular Donegal and Derry, are the home I never had.
My dad is from Derry. I have never met him, and it appears I never will. But I have spent my entire adult life searching for him and my hidden family and I will continue to do so until I die.
I grew up English as anything, and the only exposure I had to anything "Irish" was the IRA bombing my city. But I still held on to that knowledge that half of me is Irish.
In the late 80s I got hold of a Northern Ireland phone book and called some random numbers with his last name, just in case. The response was not the best, but nor was the idea.
When I moved to Germany in the early 90s I travelled by bus to Munich, and there were some Irish musicians on the back with us. We had a blast. And I did everything I could to expose myself to Irish music from that point on.
I moved to the US on March 17th 1999. St Patrick's Day. Waking Ned Devine was the in-flight movie. Titanic was just a couple of years old and the Party in 3rd Class was still fresh in my memory. And yes, Riverdance.
As internet tools became more and more readily available, my search for my dad started to increase. We found his electoral register entry and sent a letter... ...he confirmed he's my dad but that was all he wanted to get into at the time.
He currently lives in Eglinton, outside Derry. I had my DNA tested and added to the Ancestry.com database in 2019. Apparently my Irish side is predominantly from Donegal, from the Inishowen peninsula. The Gamble family my dad was born into had moved from across what's now the border sometime between around 1920 and 1940. His grandad is buried in Ardmore, and his parents lived there most of their lives.
I contacted the daughter of a first cousin, part of a family that transplanted to Coventry in the 60s. That was the key to confirm the top and bottom of my Irish roots and bring them all together. My dad is one of 16 kids, which means I have a crapton of cousins out there. Which for someone who has ZERO first cousins on the English side is something very strange.