Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Irish Chronicles - Part One

Now we're well into the octave of St. Patrick, so it's only fittin' that we should open up the floodgates of Story, of the Remembering and of Recollection. For the Irish, you see, are full of it (the art of storytellin'... that is.)

A few years ago, my wife and I had the chance to visit Ireland. We stayed with Rebecca's cousins in Cork and Killarney, touring up and down the western coast. We even made it up to the northwest corner of Ireland, to the windswept, rocky fields of Donegal where a section of my family traces its roots. We hiked up Slieve League and down the Gap of Dunloe, we prayed at Knock, and sang songs with the cousins for Denis's birthday party at the little red pub just near his house. The family took us in, as they say, and we experienced Ireland from the inside out (this being the third time for my wife!)

"And now a song from Bill" cried Rebecca's Uncle Pat one night. And like it or not, I was singing in the kitchen, "Four Green Fields", surrounded by the relations, with pints and glasses and poems being read. It was just like the stories I heard growing up.

Everyone I have ever spoken to about Ireland praises her. Everyone who has ever been there longs to go back. When I was young, images of Ireland were so often repeated, breathed in with the scent of tea and mince meat on the stove at Grandma Donaghy's, that I thought perhaps I had already been there, and was just now remembering. I heard the songs of Frank Patterson and the Chieftains, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, the Pogues and the Wolftones and all the stories; about the land and the "moosic".... about the time dad (at 19) showed up at Grandma Roses' step and they thought it was Frank back from America. About the way little Hughie at 9 could call the sheep better than the locals, and how when they first landed, they followed Uncle Hugh on his scooter on the winding road from work, threatening to pass and annoying him to no end, until he finally pulled over, tore off his cap and realized with tears that it was his brother Frank and his American family behind him all the while. I have a picture in my head of them embracing beside green fields, with a gravel road curving away.

I found the following lines years ago, a bit of verse on the Irish. When I first read it, I had that sense again that I already knew it. For most of it sounds like my family.

What Shall I Say About the Irish?

The utterly impractical, never predictable,
Sometimes irascible, quite inexplicable, Irish.
Strange blend of shyness, pride and conceit,
And stubborn refusal to bow in defeat.

He's spoiling and ready to argue and fight,
Yet the smile of a child
fills his soul with delight.
His eyes are the quickest to well up with tears,
Yet his strength is the strongest
to banish your fears.
His hate is as fierce as his devotion is grand,
And there is no middle ground
on which he will stand.
He's wild and he's gentle,
he's good and he's bad.
He's proud and he's humble,
he's happy and sad.
He's in love with the ocean,
the earth and the skies,
He's enamoured with beauty wherever it lies.
He's victor and victim, a star and a clod,
But mostly he's Irish—
in love with his God.

Tomorrow Irish Lesson: "Fiddles, a Whistle and the Slow Poured Pint"

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