Leo concluded his pub song with the loud closing of the accordion, signaling the request for applause from patrons of his Donegal tavern. We were happy to oblige: it was not every night – well, actually, it was not any night – that I got front row seats to a performance of the father of Clannad and Enya. But this turned out to be my night, as I had been sharing a pint of Guinness with Matt Alexander, a Mitchell who had studied at Magee three years prior. Leo stepped off the stage and approached me and brought me up inviting, me to sing a song.
“I don’t know any,” I lied. But he persisted: “You must know an Irish song.”
I did…half of one anyway. I had first heard the words to the tune on Capitol Hill when John Hume was honored by the Senate, and then again (under, as often in Northern Ireland, a different name) at my graduation from Georgetown. It was the song my grandfather was singing as he died. It would do.
With Leo Brennan, I sang the first verse of “Danny Boy”. And he and the crowd were actually impressed! Not a bad result for someone whose most common auditorium is the shower. I even stayed on to sing “The Sound of Silence”.
Events like this characterized my past few months – my last few months – in “Stroke City”. Even amidst a good deal of paper-writing, there was always some craic.
Always a Boston Celtics fan, I became a Glasgow Celtic fan, seeing them clinch the Scottish Premier League against Hearts in Glasgow, and then making it to Old Trafford to see the testimonial of Roy Keane, one of Ireland’s greatest soccer players. I don’t approve of the republican pep songs that sometimes permeate the crowd. I also don’t wear the home jersey a friend gave me too often around Derry – so as not to make a political statement. It was easy to fall in love with the team, though.
I also enjoyed a week in Belgium with my MA class. We stayed at the Louvain Institute for Ireland in Europe, toured World War I battlefields near Ypres, and met with officials from the EU and NATO. Taking a page out of the Wednesday tradition, I led a table quiz for the other students in a craic-filled night of embarrassing stories (such as when Jesus’ head fell off the crucifix I was carrying as a thirteen-year-old alter server at the beginning of mass…)
Speaking of mass, I was also able to get involved in St. Eugene’s getting to read at the Bishop’s mass on Holy Thursday at St. Eugene’s (although everyone’s head stayed thankfully fastened).
The last few weeks of May have been some of the most memorable as a Mitchell. The weekend reunion in Dublin gave me an opportunity to meet many of those who came before, and get an idea of some of the things the have done after Ireland. I was fortunate to room with Matt (whom I saw again in Donegal), who is directing a successful nonprofit working with internally displaced persons in Columbia. Additionally, meeting some bright young leaders from the North and the South helped build relationships that are sure to continue.
It is the people I have gotten to know here – both the Mitchells and those from Ireland – that I will miss the most about this place. The former have made close friends and traveling partners (I am leaving with Melissa for South Africa tomorrow), and the latter have made equally strong friends and teachers of generosity, a love for music, stories, and jokes, and an unbroken but often challenged hope for peace.
While I am looking forward to seeing the people I love back in the U.S., I will deeply miss this Island. Derry is a “town that I loved so well”, and I hope that it “will simply sleep in peace” until I come back again.
I had to learn the other half of the song, after all.