Many years ago I had the chance to go to Ireland and trace the steps of famous Irish writers I admired such as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Sean O’Casey. Armed with Joyce’s Ulysses, I did seek some sort of intimate connection with Dublin, though not specifically along the path of character Leopold Bloom. I also took courses at the Irish Writers’ Centre, met other writers from all over the world, and spent afternoons in the Garden of Remembrance thinking and writing.
I had a small flat on Upper Rathmines Road in a quiet section of Dublin. I enjoyed my days there and had a chance to get some serious writing done, beginning work on what would eventually become my novel, Like a Passing Shadow. During this time I also got to know the family next door, including ten year old Brendan who was fascinated with the fact that I came from New York City.
“One day I am going to come to visit you and see the St. Patrick’s Day Parade!” he would state rather emphatically. Of course, I told him that if he ever came to the Big Apple that I would take him to see the parade.
So eight years later, I was more than a little surprised to receive a letter from Dublin stating that Brendan was coming to New York for a visit. He would be staying with family in Brooklyn, and his arrival couldn’t have been timed more perfectly as it was the day before St. Patrick’s Day.
I took the subway down to Park Slope and met Anna and Patrick, his aunt and uncle, who were in their 70s and kindly folks. They broke out the Jamesons and made me feel right at home. Brendan now was a tall young man with twinkling green eyes and dark red curly hair. He was filled with excitement about being in New York, and reminded me of my promise to take him to the “big parade.”
The next day it was blustery and cold as we came up out of the subway and encountered the crowds of people running through the streets. Everyone seemed to be wearing green: hats, scarves, jewelry, coats, and shoes. Pretty girls ran past us with shamrocks painted on their cheeks, and Brendan grabbed my arm and proclaimed, “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
We passed a ubiquitous Irish New York bar with an illuminated Budweiser shamrock in the window, and this was the call to whet our whistles. Brendan noticed that customers were drinking green beer, and he had to try this at once. Afterwards, we exited the bar and continued walking toward the sound of pounding drums. Once we reached the parade on Fifth Avenue, a group of men playing bagpipes passed by as if on cue, and Brendan’s eyes widened and he looked at me with a glowing expression that reminded me of the Dublin boy who once said that he would be here to see this.
We continued walking up Fifth Avenue ostensibly following the parade route, stopping in another bar to use the bathroom and have another drink, and then we went out and stood on a street corner and Brendan saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the first time. We went inside and, with the sounds of the parade momentarily muffled by the gothic architecture of the building, he walked around with his mouth agape touching the benches and the walls. We stood quietly for a moment until the sound of bagpipes broke the silence, and he looked at the doors as if he remembered why we were here.