Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette 3/16/2022
President John Kennedy’s repeated caution, “What’s past is prologue” is from the Bard’s Tempest. ‘Prologue’ proposes history repeats itself, often in war. Its full meaning contends that our future is subject to the choices we make. True citizens condemn invasions of peaceful countries. Please pray for the Ukrainians–and a workable ceasefire–hoping against hope for a just outcome. Pax vobiscum.
My late brother, Steve, was born on the Ides of March. He missed being named after Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, whose holiday was days away. He was christened after his grandfather. St. Patrick is credited with this 433 AD Breastplate orison; a healing balm for a suffering world:
I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me, God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to save me From snares of devils, From temptation of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.
May St. Patrick’s prayer defeat a sub-devil like “Mad Vlad” Putin!
In January, 1949, on a freezing pier in Boston, I met my Irish aunt, Mary Crawley, her English husband Michael, and their two girls.. It was my 16th birthday. The Crawley’s had just survived a harrowing North Atlantic voyage. Our Irish, American, and now English family was growing. In just four years, I would be a fearless traveler to the land of my father’s birth.
My confidence grew during two years in the states before shipping out for England. Ireland nearby was ripe for adventuring. It was the summer of 1953, twenty-three years since my dad left for America. This greenhorn was taking in the world of international travel. A wide-eyed twenty-year-old was too young to consider that he was reversing his namesake’s earlier trip at the exact same age. I want to believe we shared a longing for green fields.
I imagined his leaving in the opening poem of 2010’s “On History’s Front Steps.” Puck Valediction describes 1000-year-old Puck Fair. Three full days of farmers trading cattle, goods, and horses while celebrating life. A captured Puck goat rules over Killorglin town’s pre-Christian gathering. The fair draws thousands of visitors every August, including emigrants from America. This poem’s last stanza mimics dad’s hesitation of the unknown. The words came to me in fell-swoop order:
Like a Tinker of old he carried his skills In a sack: self-thrown out of the nest. Now on his mending way, his life before him: Brothers, sisters, Mum and Da left to fend for the field. As he walked abroad in step to a fiddler’s tune, A lively resident in his ear Since festive Puck’s somber scattering day: Goodbye to all that.
For the first time, I had to look up train and ferry schedules. Luckily, my new English girlfriend was up on trains and how to book them.
The Great Western Railway ran deep into Wales. The ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare took me close to Dublin. It was a far cry from my father’s 1930 trip, Cork to New York, on the German liner Dresden. I can only imagine his doubts on leaving the newly freed Irish Republic–toward an uncharted future.
In Dublin, my aunt Siobhan and uncle Donal O’Leary had a houseful of children, so directed me to a friendly B&B. In the morning I was awoken by the daughter of the house with an unexpected bed-tray. A full-Irish: eggs, sausage, baked beans, toast and bacon. Dublin, a well-nourished stop on my way south to County Kerry.
My sprightly grandfather, Stephen, met the train in Killarney. A widower, Gramps emigrated to Northampton in 1947. A number of his ten sons and daughters were here to welcome him. We kids called him “Old Gramps”. The 73-year-old Kerryman was home for Puck Fair. Grabbing my hand, he marched me to the Cathedral for a quick prayer of thanks before catching the bus to Killorglin. My uncle Michael ran the ‘Family Butchers’ and lived above the shop. I was given a room, food, and treated like a long- lost child. James was back.
Like a cameo from John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” Mike invited me to tour the countryside in his van. As we drove, he remarked that a barefooted woman on a farm we passed had probably “never ridden in an automobile”. This American car dealer’s son was shocked–never mind spoiled.
When my leave was over, I flew back to Bristol, England. Aer Lingus used a converted U.S. Army Air Force DC-3. Its makeover added soft seats and insulation. Our airmen called it a Gooney Bird; the Brits a Dakota. The Douglas C-47 version was the 82nd Airborne’s D-Day workhorse.
Walking across Dublin’s rainy tarmac to board the two-engine airliner I was, for a moment, Lindbergh, taking off for Paris; Bogey, seeing-off Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca’s final scene. Travel as romance; innocence abroad.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, give a thought to the millions of Ukrainian men, women, and children under siege and displaced from peaceful homes.