Before Anthony Kearns starts his rendition of Danny Boy he has a short preamble about Ireland being a "rich and rare land, a fresh and fair land, and a dear and rare land, this land of mine." Ah, what is more natural than Danny Boy and Ireland? It is like vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup - and perfect harmony of taste and sound.
Today is St. Patricks Day, another one of those must-drink days that starts with anticipation, and likely ending hugging what we used to refer to back in the MDH days, as the "pink pagoda." That was the color of the staff bathroom stool and sink.
All across the world, in pubs big and small, amid clanking glassware filled with ale, the Irish, the perceived Irish, and those wanting to be will probably at some point hear the national song of love and loss.
There are few specific memories of St. Pats Day for me. About all that comes to mind is to get my Illinois Millionionaire Raffle they sell up to today with about 4 new millionaires the next morning. Another is of my old friend, Mike Johnson, who found me sitting on a barstool in downtown G-Burg a couple days before St. Pats Day and we had a few and even bought one of those green charity shamrocks where you sign you name and they post them on a wall.
Mike wouldn't make it to St. Pat's Day that year. He died on the road in Chicago suddenly and unexpectedly. One doesn't get a chance to have many great friends in life, he was one of mine for a while. I went in to the bar a few days after and got his shamrock and have it still.
So Danny Boy is sung by all the greats and by all the schools and has that endlessly perfect combination of sadness and lilting lyrics that evokes longing for those who we have lost. After all the gaiety of a nights drinking with old and new friends it is the song that is sung last, as a kind of hymn to the state of the human condition - we all say goodbye and we all miss those who leave.
Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side,
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow,
And I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy I love you so.
But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
Ye'll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me;
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!
This year marks the 101st anniversary of its creation and what is remarkable is that it was not written by an Irishman. It was penned by Englishman Fred Weatherly who was a prolific songwriter and attorney. He had never been to Ireland and was of the stodgy upper crust variety. So how could it be that this tune would immediately take off for the Irish? In a year soldiers would be saying goodbye forever and trundle off to Europe to partake in World War I, and the Irish immigration to America would commence and form a kind of dual "sadness" that affected all of England and Ireland.
So today I will be thinking of Mike and of other personal goodbyes and farewells: of Uncle Ed, the folks, MDH, Illinois and BFE; of Missy and my life's summer.
And then I'll open a cold one, smile at my good fortune for having had these great things, and wait to see if I won the Millionaire raffle.