Thought on the Day After St. Patrick’s Day

It was late afternoon when we arrived at Cousin Danny Daly’s B and B on the green edge of green Killarney where everyone is named Sullivan, except, of course, Danny Daly. We took tea and cake with Danny and his wife Hannah, and, later, enjoyed supper of lamb and root vegetables.

Following breakfast the next day, we strolled — my Dan and I — in the misty, west Irish morning. West Irish moorings are mostly misty, with nothing lying between them and Newfoundland but the churning gray North Atlantic and an erratic escarpment of stony islands.

Down a gravelled road we wandered, into a petering-out of the city; into what in famine time had been wild countryside. Our glance was all to our left where pleasant modern houses stood with wide lawns rolling down toward us, brilliant flower beds tumbling and tumbling down the gentle slope. Flowers thrive in these misty mornings.

When we had ventured perhaps a mile, we turned back. Now on our left as we neared Cousin Danny’s was a strange, tossed, lumpen landscape, obviously nothing created by Nature, yet as brilliantly green in knee-high grass as the rest.

Drawing closer, we noted white-painted pipes poking up out of the ground higgledy-piggledy. A tall wire fence and a gate enclosed this odd patch of countryside. We thought of entering, but were constrained by a silent voice. Or perhaps that’s putting it too strongly. Nevertheless we did not unlatch the gate but, rather, turned to the right and into the curving drive of the B and B.

Back in the bright comfort of Danny’s home, we asked at once, “What is that place across the road with the white pipes sticking up from the ground?”

“Oh, that,” Danny said, “that was one of the places along the roads where folks came to die when there was no one to bury them at home. The pipes once had cross-pieces, but those have fallen off, y’see.”

If you’re a Yank whose grandmother or great-grandfather came across a century or more ago, often as not you eschew the poems of the Troubles, of the Black and Tan, even as you avoid, except at St. Patrick’s Day, songs of the famine and the wide ocean that forever divided families. You’d rather not think about those girls in villages who were sent across the Atlantic because there was not enough food, but were first shamed in the public square by having their heads shaved because they were going and the others couldn’t. Never forget to be humble.

Now and then, you come across an old photograph or family story, or you stay at your Cousin Danny Daly’s B and B at the edge of Killarney where the flowers tumble down to the road, and you understand again St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not about green beer or the eternal, infernal tappety-tapping of Lord of the Dance. It’s about respect. That says it all, I think. Respect for those buried beneath white pipes and the girls in the square with shaven heads, and those who survived and wrote the poems.