Sam Champion Traces Roots Back to the Old Sod

BySAM CHAMPION via via logo

Nov. 1, 2006 — -- The Beara Peninsula in County Cork, Ireland, is timeless, beautiful, serene -- the stuff that postcards are made of.

But I only recently discovered that for my family these fields are far more than pretty pictures; they're actually my roots -- the land my great-grandfather came from.

Growing up the son of Marine, I moved all over the world. Both of my parents are the only surviving siblings in their families, so I'd only heard bits and pieces about my family tree as our family of four traveled from one exotic place to another.

I had some idea that my family name was old but with the help of genealogists I learned just how old: The Champions -- and, yes, that is my real family name -- have been in America for almost 300 years .

My father's mother's side of the family, on the other hand -- the Hampstons -- are relative newcomers to the U.S. That, it turns out, actually made my Irish roots easier to trace.

Documents indicate my great grandfather, James Hampston, sailed from Ireland to the U.S. around 1879. He would have been 9 years old at the time.

Using that information, we were able to find the church where he was baptized back in Ireland, called St. Catherine's, and it's still standing.

We were also able to track down the old Hampston cemetery -- generations of my ancestors were buried here.

Most surprising, we were able to locate the old Hampston family farm, nestled in a rocky hillside, near the border between County Cork and County Kerry.

"With the bit of land which they had they would be farming, the Hampstons homestead is hilly, it's pretty poor land, so it was difficult," Connie Murphy, the County Cork historian, said.

At the time my family left Ireland, they were among millions of Irishmen seeking a new life in America.

The potato famine had crippled the economy, local mines were drying up, and the promise of a new land beckoned.

Today, Irish-Americans can come to the Cove Heritage Center to trace their rootsand see the port through which their ancestors departed, which still boasts a population of wild dolphins.

We weren't sure when we began to research my family roots, whether we would find any living relatives remaining in County Cork.

But much to my surprise, a crew tracked down two of my Irish cousins -- Chrissy and Richard. Their mother was a Hampston, and their grandfather was my great-grandfather's cousin.

They were only too happy to see what I -- their American cousin -- looked like.

"He looks a bit like my Uncle Peter Hampston, yeah," my cousin Peter Lyne said. "And he's the man that produces the weather, is he? Oh, very good!"

In the midst of showing our crew around the old Hampston farm, it seemed only fitting that the sky opened up with a traditional Irish rainstorm.

Perhaps my fascination with weather truly is in my blood -- my Irish blood, that is. That's what my cousins seem to think.

"I used to work here with Mike Hampston and Peter Hampston," Peter said. "They'd walk over there and they'd look west and they were very good to predict the weather."

Today, just like a century ago, area residents enjoy music and dancing in the local pub at the end of the day.

And now, like then, the philosophy remains the same: There's always room for one more at the bar -- especially for those with Irish roots.

"We'd love for him to come to Ireland," Peter said. "Really, it would be great, Yeah. I often get caught out with the weather, so it would be great if he could give me a few tips!"

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