Inspiration from My Irish Ancestors

Far and Away for Adventure and Opportunity

Someone recently asked whether there was a particular film that inspired me to pursue adventure abroad. Although I won’t advocate for its historical accuracy, Far and Away remains a favorite in this regard. (On the book side, I Am David or North to Freedom is an incredible story of a boy who fled a concentration camp in Eastern Europe.)

If you’ve yet to see it, I encourage you to do so. It tells the story of a young and illiterate man, played by Tom Cruise, who flees poverty in Ireland for a chance at something better in the United States. After immense hardships along the way, including a not-so-rosy reception in Boston, the film climaxes with the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.

Oklahoma-Land-Run
So many of my Irish ancestors had to leave in this manner to provide better opportunities for their children, including my grandfather, John Groarke. After a stint in India during World War II, he ended up living and working as a teacher on a remote Indian reservation in Rose Prairie. That’s east of the Rockies in British Columbia, Canada.


In this foreign and harsh environment, he had to wait a year for his wife and four sons to join him — including my triplet uncles. They went on to have five more children in Canada, including my mother.

The triplets

My uncles, Louis, Leo, and Paul, with my grandmother on the right in Ireland, 1954.

As my grandmother shared in her autobiography, Becoming a Canadian, he had never driven a car, but that didn’t stop him from buying one back in the 1950s. He spent hours by himself just learning to get it started and then crashed it three times on his way back to the reservation. Then he had to learn to drive on the ice, because during the winter that was the best way to get across the river to the family home.

Eventually, he went on to become a hard-nosed editor for the Rocky View Times, a newspaper in Calgary, Alberta — and he would write letters to his curious grandson all the way over in New Zealand.

The Good RebelMy uncle Louis Groarke, a philosopher and author of The Good Rebel, shared that on one occasion someone called and threatened my grandfather and the family with violence and arson if he were to print a crime story and reveal the instigator. Listening in on the call through the other phone, Louis heard that far from backing down and getting intimidated, my grandfather lectured the man on personal responsibility and integrity!

As a resilient, international, and principled man who provided for his wife and nine children, he remains a role model for me. I only wish he were still alive to share in my work.

Fergus Hodgson About Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson is an economic consultant, media executive, athlete, and traveler. He holds degrees in economics and political science from the United States and New Zealand, and he has lived in eight countries. Follow @FergHodgson.

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