It had always been said that “Smiling Jack” Doyle could make any man – or woman for that matter – cry when he sang “Oh Danny Boy,” his deep and robust voice quivering ever so slightly throughout, causing hearts to flutter and eventually tears to flow.
On a cold Brooklyn night a week before St. Patrick’s Day, Jack sat at his usual table in Dolan’s Pub surrounded by several friends. At 47 his once gaunt and handsome face had become red and swollen, and the lean physique had been subsumed by the current bloated version he saw in the mirror each morning.
Business was booming at the accounting firm Jack had inherited from his father, and he was proud that he put his kids through Catholic schools and sent Jack Junior to Notre Dame and Deirdre to the University of Delaware. He had pictures of them in his wallet that he proudly showed people after a few pints, and he told everyone that life had been good to him.
Old man Dolan came over to the table wiping his hands on a bar towel. “Gents, may I speak with Jack for a moment, please?”
Tim Finnegan looked up from his glass of Old Bushmills and said, “We’ve all been friends since kindie-garten, Bill. We have no secrets.”
Dolan frowned and pointed to the giant bouncer Rob Rooney at the door. “I need to speak to Jack alone. Go away or you can go home.”
“Have it your way, Bill,” Tim said taking his drink and leading the others to the far corner of the bar.
“So what did I do now?” Jack asked.
Bill sat down. “I’ve got a big favor to ask you actually.”
Jack sipped his Guinness and downed a shot of whiskey. “Well, you know I’d do anything for you, Bill.”
Bill whispered,” I want you to sing this Friday night.”
Jack laughed, “But I always sing without an invitation, Bill.”
“This is different.”
“I can hardly hear ya, Billy-boy.” Jack leaned closer to him. “I feel like I’m in confession.”
“Funny you should say that,” Bill said. “You will be singing for the bishop.”
Jack’s eyes widened and his face turned almost purple. “The bishop?”
“Yes, he is coming for dinner and personally requested that you sing ‘Oh Danny Boy.’”
“How did the bishop hear about me?”
“McCrae says the bishop saw that story on New York 1. Seems you’re getting famous, Jack.”
“I guess,” Jack sighed.
“So, will you do it, Jack?”
Jack sipped his drink and nodded. “It will be my honor.”
Three days had passed and Bill hadn’t seen Jack in the pub, so he sent Rooney to check on him.
Maureen Doyle answered the door, her green eyes shining in the sunlight. “What do you want here?”
Rooney, despite his size, was extremely shy especially around women. “I…I’m checking if Jack’s alright.”
Maureen dug her fists into her hips. “Alright? He is mortified about singing for the bishop. He’s not eating or sleeping and what’s worse he’s not drinking.”
“Oh, my,” Rooney moaned.
“He’s driving me nuts! Tell that to your boss.” Maureen slammed the door and turned to see Jack looking out the back window. “Jack, why don’t you go to the office for a few hours or the pub?”
Jack turned to her, his lips quivering. “I can’t drink a drop until I sing for the bishop. I need to be thinking clearly as to not mess up the words.”
Maureen went to him and touched his hot red cheek. “You’ve sung that song hundreds of times.”
“But this will be the first time for the bishop.”
“Okay,” Maureen turned to walk away and looked back at him, “but you have never sung in public without needing a few drinks first. Think about that.”
St. Patrick’s Day came and the pub was overflowing with people. The Kerry Brothers Band was performing, and platters of corned beef and cabbage kept coming out from the kitchen. As Kenny Kerry crooned, “I’m looking over a four-leafed clover…” Jack Doyle walked into the pub and everything stopped.
Dolan came running up to him looking at his watch. “I thought you weren’t coming. The bishop will be here in five minutes!”
Jack wore a suit and green tie; the collar of his shirt was dark with sweat. “I’m…here.”
Bill pointed at Kenny and barked, “Play some music.”
Jack went to the end of the bar and sat down. Dolan quickly poured him a pint and set a glass of whiskey next to it. “Do yourself a favor, Jack, and have a drink.”
“No, I must not,” Jack said.
The bishop came in wearing his black suit and white collar followed by several priests. An empty table waited for him directly in front of the stage, and he sat down and ordered a glass of wine and corned beef and cabbage. All conversations and the music stopped; you could hear a pin drop all the way to Dublin.
Jack went on stage, took the microphone from Kenny, and stared at the bishop. “It is an honor to sing for you tonight, Your Excellency.” The band began playing. Jack sang, “Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…” By the time he had finished, the bishop used his napkin to dry the tears on his cheeks.
Later that night Jack sat at the bar staring at the same pint and whiskey Dolan had poured for him earlier. The bishop had left, the band kept playing, and the crowd had become rambunctious.
“You’ve sung it many times, but that’s your best performance, Jack,” Bill said.
“Thank you,” Jack said.
Bill lifted his pint and said, “It’s over now; you made the bishop cry! You need a good stiff drink.”
Jack got up, adjusted his tie, and said, “I’ll have my next drink when I want one and don’t need one.” Jack left the pub through the back door to avoid the crowd and walked home whistling “Danny Boy.”