It was Saturday at last, and more important than that, it was St. Patrick’s day. Conor found himself in a place he hadn’t been inside since he was a boy… a church at 8 in the morning.
It was the strangest combination of events that led him here (shaved, in his best clean clothes, sport coat and all). Basically, this lovely church in Northeast Dallas wanted to do something special for St. Patrick’s day as… well… it was called St. Patrick’s Church.
Somehow word had gotten out that Conor lived near and that he was fluent in Irish Gaelic and Catholic (of a fashion). They asked him to come and help them with the closing hymn, which would be the Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig (Our Hope, St. Patrick). The congregation had been given placards tucked into the Missal in phonetic Irish (with translation) for those that wished to sing along; but Conor would likely carry the bulk of the load.
Looking around at the lovely woodwork, the statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the stained glass windows… Conor found himself slipping back into the old, old, old habits of his childhood. He stood for the entrance hymn and the entrance of the priest and officiates. Yup, this was going to be a full on High Mass. What with it being a special day, the Knights of Columbus gentlemen were all in their full colorful finery lining the way with sabers held aloft. Then the various opening bits, the Kyrie, lots of standing and sitting, the reading from the Gospels, the Gospel hymn, the Homily, all the traditional phrases and responses; it all was coming back to him. He grinned that he still crossed himself in the Irish way (head, heart thrice – tap, tap, tap) rather than actually touching both shoulders the proper way like all these Americans. Then came the preparation for Communion. Conor just sat back a pensively thought to himself… it’s been a long time since I took of that particular rite.
He had no intention to partake today either. He remembered well enough participating in that particular ritual without some pretty important prerequisites kinda irked the “man upstairs.” Though he figured he’d go up for the blessing anyway (after all, he had it on good authority that God was still around and fairly active) and it certainly couldn’t hurt. As he was up there waiting for the blessing, he saw Elena standing up there as well. He had invited her to attend to hear him sing, but didn’t know if she would come (she had been having “questions” about her relationship with the White God and Conor figured he’d give her a push… just because HE wasn’t on that team anymore, didn’t mean he didn’t like the cheerleaders).
Afterwards came the various prayers, the standing, sitting, and kneeling Eucharistic prayer, and so forth, culminating with the breaking of the bread and then the actual Communion; same as any other Mass. Well okay maybe not exactly the same… back home in Ireland there’s always a mad rush to the Altar. Here apparently they were much more organized.
Once Conor sat back down after the blessing, he started gently humming the tune he would sing to himself. He passively noticed the folks sneaking out the back after receiving the Communion… unwilling or unable to stay for the last few minutes (or to just beat the coming jam in the parking lot). The Priest started the Concluding Rite – and also described the unique situation for the closing hymn. After the benediction, he then invited Conor up to help sing for the closing hymn for the dismissal procession.
Today more than any of the days of his youth he pondered the words as he sang them… “Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig, Aspal mór na hÉireann” (Our hope, Saint Patrick, great apostle of Ireland)… and then later on… “’Sé a chloigh na draoithe, Croíthe dúra gan aon mhaith.” (He who defeated the druids, their hard hearts without any goodness)…
Conor couldn’t help but think of the Winter Court; hard hearts without goodness indeed.
After it was all over, he stayed to shake hands and chat with folks. He only saw Elena for a brief moment, she nodded and then she was gone (she’s a sneaky one when she wants to be). He got a lot of questions about the Irish language and his background, but he was eager to excuse himself. He didn’t feel exactly UNcomfortable in the Church, but he didn’t feel like he entirely belonged anymore either. Matthew (only slightly surprisingly) had accepted his invite and come to Mass. They chatted for a moment; exchanging a couple of old tired quips. Talking to all these good churchgoing folk was pulling him back out of his shell… that and the prospects of a rollicking great Saturday ahead. It was about 9:30 and the madness over on Greenville was just getting underway.
By the time Conor got there (after poping off home to change into the St. Patrick’s Day “uniform” of a green T-shirt and blue jeans), the city had already blocked off a chunk of Greenville Avenue between Vickery and Vanderbilt. This part of the city included all the essential for American Irish to have a party… a 24 hour alcohol store, pubs, cantinas, and restaurants of all kinds (one of them – The Dubliner – actually Irish by name and ownership), a bail-bonds service, a lawyer, and an insurance salesman. At this hour of the morning, the various booths were setting up and the early risers were showing up to camp out their spots. The parade would be a little further north (not quite 2 miles to go) and kick off around 11am, then folks would start migrating down here.
Conor had walked here from the DART station (and he’d have to walk a bit further to reach the parade route). He passed by Uncle’s shop, located pretty much smack dab in the middle of the blocked off road. It was secured and had a sign up that said “Closed!” and in smaller font underneath were the words “One more thing – Don’t puke on my sidewalk!” Conor burst out laughing when he read the subscript; he was fairly certain that the advice wouldn’t be heeded. He was also pretty sure that Uncle was still inside trying desperately to avoid the loud noise and insanity (as he had no desire to disrupt whatever tiny shred of peace me might get, Conor kept on walking).
The closed off section of Greenville ended at Vanderbilt Avenue, with the green “Goody Goody Liquors” store at the intersection… ironically appropriate. As could be expected, the establishment was doing a brisk business today with party-goers stocking up for the day ahead. Conor was enjoying himself, soaking up the building energy and crowds. The sky was overcast, but unlikely to rain, and that suited him just fine. There was something just fundamentally amusing about St. Patrick’s day for an Irishman. For the people, it was basically an excuse to put on green shirts and just have a good time. The color of your skin had no bearing on anything nor did the place of your birth… people just like parades (that was especially true this year, as the parade was likely to be cancelled until the guy that owned the Dallas Mavericks basketball team put up the cash out of his own pocket to bankroll it – just because). For the local businesses, it was free advertising and a chance to slap some sponsorship slogans around all over everything. That said… sometimes the most embarrassing moments each St. Patrick’s day came from white fellas with Irish surnames.
There were really only two things that just totally and completely set Conor’s jaw to gnashing every year. One – leprechauns. Conor bloody hated folks that voluntarily dressed as leprechauns on St. Patrick’s day with a passion. Even if he weren’t himself fae; he’d have disliked people dressed as leprechauns. As he WAS Fae, and knew a few Cobs personally (honest, solid wildfae just trying to get on in the world), he hated the caricatures. Two – “Patty’s Day.” Conor obviously realized it was a natural corruption; after all, the Irish in America had not spoken Irish Gaelic in generations (hell most weren’t Catholic anymore). Pat was and is a logical shortening of Patrick in English, but Patty is a girl’s name. Maybe in Wales or whatever 1500 years ago his latin name was Pat-something-us… but as the Patron Saint of Catholic Ireland and all its immigrants… his name is Pádraig with a “D.” Even though he was no longer of that faith, it still seemed so disrespectful. Names are important, names have power. If a person’s going to celebrate the man’s deeds in Ireland, at least get his Irish feethin’ name right. Everything else… the plastic green bowlers or Dr. Seuss hats, the flashing light up battery powered buttons, the glittering cardboard shamrocks, throwing necklaces of beads like it was Mardi Gras, silly green or shamrock shaped sunglasses… all of that he could live with.
Ah well… better get a move on if he’s going to be there in time for the parade. Today, more than usual, he wanted to take in the sights and see what the day would bring.
An Céilí Beag
If Conor had been a merely mortal man, he’d be beat and ready to collapse. He’d been walking most of the day, warm as it was, up and down Greenville (and after the parade playing his guitar at various times – only amplified music required a permit from the cops as he discovered). Unlike most everyone else at this hour (between the walking and the fact that he had only had a single Guinness the entire day), he was stone cold sober. He was at Trinity Hall amidst friends, but not performing today. His guitar was safely behind the bar and he was enjoying the live music and the company.
He’d been chatting up a couple of girls, nothing serious, just enjoying himself when the band started up a lively jig. The accordion player was hot tonight and on a tear. Conor sat up and watched, but his legs were tapping and he had a huge grin on his face.
The young lady with which he had been currently speaking (a fine lovely girl named Meg, originally from Ohio but now from one of the various suburbs north of Dallas) grinned and asked, “So do you stepdance, Conor?”
“Aye I do, but the Sean Nós, not that Riverdance stuff.” Conor was clapping along now to the music.
“Well I dance that Riverdance stuff, wanna give it a go?” Meg’s face was positively alight and she was barely standing still herself.
She was wearing some bloody awful St. Patrick’s day outfit that … well … really looked good on her (apparently) dancer’s figure. Black shoes, fishnet stockings with little green shamrocks randomly attached at the intersections of the webbing, a green kilted miniskirt of some kind was cinched up tight with a black leather belt about 2 inches wide (Conor vaguely remembered that the pattern was called the Irish National Tartan over here… news to Conor at the time as he’d never seen the thing while he was actually IN Ireland). Above that belt was nothing at all over an expanse of well tanned abdomen. She wore a green crochet yarn halter top that cradled her anatomy very attractively. The straps of the top met behind a neck that was adorned with dozens of strings of green beads (they had been thrown about at the parade). The only other jewelry was a pair of green shamrock earrings tucked beneath her brown hair and a couple of plastic green bangles. Her lightly freckled face was plain but attractive, and her blue eyes glowed like glacier ice at twilight with the thought of dancing. To the outside of her right eye was a tiny glittering shamrock sticker. It was quite an ensemble of Irish-Americanism (and not at all unusual for the day).
Conor led Meg to the floor and they set the place ablaze. Within moments another two girls jumped out and the Americans clustered about got a spectacular exhibit of Irish footwork. Since Conor danced in “the old style” (Sean Nós), he was far more comfortable with the idea of waving his arms about in a relaxed manner or taking a spin with the ladies than most Americans have had the chance to see; he leveraged that freedom as the jig went on. All three of the girls were clearly trained step-dancers of the modern “competition/step-dance school” style and they were quite good. However, a jig is a jig and they all danced together; new style and old (in time, if not in step). For not the first time in his life, Conor was appreciative of the wonderful effects that bouncing up and down had on the female anatomy (as encouraged by a vigorous Irish dance). The applause and cheers were nearly deafening for the dancers and musicians all.
By the time it was ended, the girls were totally winded and laughing up a storm as they flirted with the band’s accordion player and fiddler. Conor went back to the bar chuckling to himself and bought the band a drink (having money was grand). He had finally figured something out…
His old boxing coach always tried to get him to be light on his feet in the ring, to hit and move, hit and move… but never once had Conor entertained the notion that he already knew how to move his feet. He always tried to do it his coach’s way and he always felt like a leadfoot. As such he always focused on learning to hit harder than the other fella (a skill at which he still excelled)… all he had ever needed to do, was lighten up.
Meg came up a few moments later, “Okay Conor, I believe you now. That accent is real!”
Conor laughed, “I told you Meg dear, I’m a simple farmer boy from the Gaeltacht of West Connacht! Buy ye a drink?”
Meg looked at Conor’s glass of water, “I’ll have the same as you” she said with a grin.
His reply was to get the bartender’s attention, “Hey friend! Two pints of the black stuff here please!”
Meg rolled her eyes and chuckled as the Guinness was brought. They sat there for a few minutes, letting the Irish beers settle for a bit. Then she asked, “So say something Irish to me, and make it good. None of these lame T-Shirt slogans.”
Conor eyed her for a moment, she returned the gaze steadily. Then he said, “A chuisle, ba mhaith liom a bheith i mo luí leatsa… anocht… go dtí ar maidin.”
Perhaps some phrases need no translation, because Megs cheeks flushed pink, “What does that mean?”
Conor leaned over and spoke the translation in her ear, then stayed leaning near her awaiting a reply, taking in her perfume.
She said back into his ear (whispers were impossible in all this noise), “Under one condition; you cook me an Irish breakfast.”
Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig. (Iomann Clabhsúir)
St. Patrick is our hope (Closing hymn)
Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig, St. Patrick is our hope
Aspal mór na hÉireann, The great apostle of Ireland
Ainm oirirc gléigeal, A bright and splendid name
Solas mór an tsaoil é. The great light of the world
‘Sé a chloigh na draoithe, It was he who defeated the druids
Croíthe dúra gan aon mhaith. Theirhard hearts of no good
D’ísligh dream an díomais Brought down the proud
Trí neart Dé ár dtréan-fhlaith. Through the strenght of God our powerful lord
Sléibhte, gleannta, mánna. The hills, glens and plains
’S bailte móra na h-Éireann, And the towns of Ireland
Ghlan sé iad go deo dúinn He cleansed them for ever for us
Míle glóir dár Naomh dhíl. A thousand glories to our beloved saint
Iarraimíd ort, a Phádraig, We ask you, Patrick,
Guí orainne, Gaela, To pray for us, Irish
Dia linn lá ’gus óiche May God be with us day and night
’S Pádraig Aspal Éireann. And Patrick apostle of Ireland.