When a young Catholic schoolgirl started singing the auld song, its bittersweet longing came fully forth.
The wintry Minnesota wind unsettled the tent flaps and the passing train whistled mournfully as it momentarily obscured Father’s voice. Parishioners and curious onlookers were packed into the enclosure outside of McCormick’s Irish Pub. Shifting where we stood on that particular morning in suits and sweaters, dresses and sweatshirts, everyone was smiling. Everything seemed festive.
And then, Father’s eyebrows rose as he warmly glanced at us. A puckish grin crept across his face.
“You know, the Feast doesn’t start until the Mass is over, right?”
Everyone nodded and laughed.
“Well, then. The Mass is over.”
More laughter and broad smiles.
After all, this was a different sort of Mass.
This was the Feast of St. Patrick.
But before our various lives wandered away to work or to play, responsibility or (perhaps just a little innocent) irresponsibility, two young Catholic schoolgirls led us in the ballads, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and Wild Irish Rose. Their young voices, at first bashful, were enriched and emboldened by the accompanying swell and heave of the older Irish who were so moved to sing with them.
But then, after a moment’s lull, a young, winsome Genevieve offered up a lilting Danny Boy.
Though a number had already moved from the tent and entered McCormick’s Pub to begin with a first pint, others upon hearing the strains of that melancholy tune stopped in their tracks.
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,
It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow,—
Oh Danny boy, Oh Danny boy, I love you so!
But if you come, when all the flowers are dying,
And 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 will know, tho’ soft ye tread above me
And then my grave will richer, sweeter be.
And you’ll bend down and tell me that you love me
And I will rest in peace until you come to me.
It was just beautiful. Here is what struck me when Genevieve sang Danny Boy.
Though St. Patrick’s Day is a Feast Day celebrated in the deep, dry, sacrificing season of Lent, one can be sure that Danny Boy was sung in innumerable locales. But contrary to most feasting songs, its lyrics are not raucous or joyful, winsome or lighthearted. They are haunting and sad. They ache deeply of separation and loss. They hunger for one last touch, one last warm embrace, one last moment in which to softly say, “I love you.”
Though Danny Boy is purportedly the work of a British lawyer/songwriter from the early 20th century, it spoke so deeply to the gnawing pain of parents seeing their young boys lost to an insensible World War or tearfully sent to travel across uncertain oceans to escape from hardship and unrest at home.
When Danny Boy is sung, it tips a momentary hat to the pain we endure and the wistfulness we encounter in our all-too-fleeting moments with those we love so dear. But even more, it reminds us that the joy of having the Danny Boys in our lives – the pure glory in having loved someone so much that it aches – is worth it. Though Suffering may come, Grace out lives it. Unquestionably, the ache worth it.
On this day, Genevieve’s Danny Boy reminded me.
To be sure, St. Patrick’s Day is a Feast Day.
But it is a Feast Day made a bit more poignant knowing that Lent is all around it.