Jim Cahillane: Irish ties, travels and travails

  • James F. Cahillane of Williamsburg. Gazette file photo/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 3/19/2019 9:53:24 AM

Ancestry checked my DNA to report that my younger brother, Steve, is my nearest relative. Saint Patrick’s Day has come and gone but Ireland’s patron saint would have to perform one more miracle to change that result.

Steve became a hero in 1951 when, at age 16, he rescued a drowning child from the Mill River at Northampton’s South Street Bridge.

Blood is thicker than water, unless it’s water-like thin on purpose.

I won’t dwell on my ailments, except to reveal that I know my blood is thinner thanks to Warfarin and monitoring by my personal staff at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. I’m one of the Coumadin Clinic’s A-Fib clients. If ever I forget, they don’t and my phone rings. Loneliness is rife among seniors.

A smiling nurse is the most welcome of cures.

Ancestry says that my background is 53 percent Irish and 47 percent Northern European. Also not a shock, as Dad emigrated from Ireland to marry a Vermonter named Smith whose roots may go back to The Mayflower.

Pride tempered with humility is a strong suit of the Irish.

Yankee blood in my veins brings to mind the taciturn people “up north,” with the driest of humors. My brother Bob tells this one: A Vermont farmer has a visitor who, hearing a ringing landline, asked the farmer why he was ignoring it? Vermonter: “I put that dang thing in for my convenience.” Bob’s story is an old one. Even so, I wonder at my fellow citizens staring at their phones day in, day out? Addiction or phobia, it’s hard to get clean.

My DNA also reveals that I have over 200 cousins, which is gratifying in case I ever need a favor. Fifty years ago I was walking through London’s Paddington train station to hear my family name paged. My uncle Michael was there to meet an Irish cousin, Tony Cahillane. Today, they’re far easier met on Facebook. Good luck to them all.

Irish Blessing: “May the rain fall softly on your fields and may the road rise up to meet you.”

Funny story that. In 1981 I won a trip to Ireland for our dealership excelling its quota of new Dodges. We were wined and dined in Dublin and then taken by train to Ashford Castle, now a fine hotel. It’s in the town of Cong, where John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara filmed “The Quiet Man.”

On our last day there we had to choose between a boat trip on Lough Corrib or to get some exercise on bicycles. We chose the latter. Our bikes were rentals and brand new. A little out of town I stood on the pedals to conquer a small grade — the handlebars collapsed and my head hit the road. I was then blessed with smashed glasses, facial stiches, a lot of pain and a wish that I’d taken the boat ride — all things considered.

In Dublin, my aunt Siobhan and her husband Donal O’Leary were old friends because I’d visited on leave from my airbase in England. They’d also met Maureen and her parents on an Irish holiday. Siobhan served us a grand lunch in front of a peat fire before asking daughter, Maura, to drive us back to our hotel. She inquired about our trip to Ashford Castle, which at the time was owned by the Guinness family. Maura asked if her parents told us of her sister who had married into that famous family, but was divorced.

We confessed that her parents hadn’t told us of their scandal. She said, “I figured as much.” An Irish family’s pride is both boon and burden.

Saint Patrick’s Day was holy to our Kerryman father. He complained loudly if his children dressed on March 17 without wearing green. Dad had good reason. He recalled days when the national color was illegal in Ireland, and of the men who died in the 1916 Easter Rising. Later, I reimagined it in in a poem titled, “Declaration.” One stanza hailed executed heroes:

Pearse and O’Connell soldiers

Of ill fortune damned to gather

Poets, writers, dreamers armed

Barely, with hope and glory

For good reasons we honor living and lost forefathers on St. Patrick’s Day as we celebrate our rich heritage of dance and song:

O the days of the Kerry dancing

O the ring of the piper’s tune!

O for one of those hours of gladness

Gone, Alas! Like our youth too soon.

Jim Cahillane is first-generation Irish American. After a 50-year business career he became an author, newspaper columnist and poet. A Northampton native, he lives in Williamsburg. Jim’s Irish travels are done, yet his blood rises to take exception to “St. Paddy’s” vs. St. Patrick’s at the drop of a hat.

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