All Things Irish
The fields in the Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
Top of the mornin'! Sure, and the sun is shining bright through me window and the soda bread is bakin' in the oven. 'Tis a good day to be Irish!
Well, if I went with my mother's philosophy any day is a good day to be Irish, but March 17 holds a special place in my heart. On the 17th of March, there were traditions and rituals that were part of our lives. Observing those rituals was as important to us as breathing air.
When I was young, we kids started the day with Mass...early...7:30 a.m. Then, we ran home, sporting our Irish knit sweaters and green apparel, looking forward to Momma's fresh baked Irish soda bread and a cup of tea. Then, after Momma put the corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots into a huge kettle to cook at the back of the stove, we would bundle up in as much green as possible to be off to the parade.
Having seen pictures of the parade from years past, I don't quite remember it being cold, but I know it was...freezing as a matter of fact, but we would not leave until the last band marched past, the bass drum pounding out its rhythm, the echo of which ricocheted in our chests. Then, off we would all march singing, "If your Irish," at the top of our lungs all the way home.
Once home, there would be the feast from Momma's kitchen, no matter how little money there was. Reflecting on it, she was a miracle worker! Truly! Never did I see anyone leave our house hungry. Momma could take bare bones and create a meal fit for a king. But, on St. Patrick's Day, the feast became legendary.
Somehow, between rising early and mid-day, she managed to spread a table that looked as if a Michelin chef had come to visit! Succulent corned-beef, never greasy, never tough, sat on a platter in the center of the table surrounded by boiled potatoes, carrots and cabbage. In a small dish, my Dad's favorite, creamed pearl onions. Mustard filled a small bowl with the pepper shaker standing guard beside it. Slices of fresh Scali bread from Joseph's Bakery and Mom's soda bread completed the meal.
Once we all ate, then it was time for singing all the old songs. Momma knew them all by heart. However, to this day, no matter how hard I try, I still can't sing them through without a cheat sheet. But, she could. Her voice was rich and full. In between the songs, were stories...family history spiced with fancy and historic facts. I was old and gray before I sorted out what was fact and what was fiction, because when she told the tales, we all believed!
For example, I still see Momma's uncle Matthew, who was a fisherman, walking down the streets of Boston in "his pea coat with pockets so big, he could carry a kid in each one." I never met this uncle, but for years, I carried his image around, thinking of him as an Irish St. Christopher!
Another fond memory...or was it terrorizing...hmmm, years do mellow the visions, don't they. Well, anyway, another memory was of being in the St. Patrick's Day Review. A fundraising show that my school put on every year. I missed being in the show in first grade because I had chickenpox and mumps, together! But, after that, I was front and center of most productions until high school.
Grant it, I wasn't a star in the chorus of classmates, just one of the smallest in the class, so I was habitually placed in front. Funny, how people think I am so outgoing. Truth be told I am shy...painfully shy, but, I learned to overcome the shyness with the encouragement of Momma, who always thought I could sing and dance on cue, and the Sisters of St. Joseph, whose talents and direction went full tilt into the revue each year.
6th Grade class - St. Patrick's Day Review
I also marched in several parades as a member of various groups. But, way back in 1971, my Dad was Chief Marshal of the parade, an honor he reveled in holding. That year, I rode in the parade along with Momma and my brother, Matt. No one would ever guess we were only half Irish!
Me, Momma and Matt - St. Patrick's Day 1971
When all is said and done, though, these memories bring joy to my heart and tears to my eyes. Momma and Daddy are smiling down on us. Momma never made it to Ireland...a dream she held her entire life, but, I did. Being Irish and returning to Ireland is never a vacation. No, it is an epic journey, a pilgrimage, a homecoming.
Daddy - St. Patrick's Day Parade Chief Marshal - 1971
I still give thanks to our dearest Barbara for gifting us with the trip of my dreams - and the dreams of Momma, Nana and Greatgrandma. I give thanks for my Irish friends, Frank Greally and Mary Byrne, both of whom have become family.
May the road rise up to meet you, as you journey down life's highways. May the sun rest softly on your shoulders, as you toil through the day. May the winds of change blow easy on your back, as you travel safely home. And, may you be blessed beyond measure everywhere you go.