Walk Down an Irish Lane

First published May 2009

Lovely encounters on an afternoon stroll

By Terry Reilly (c)

These last few weeks have been wet and windy in the West of Ireland, but sure we are used to nature’s petulance and looking forward to a great summer. On one of the reasonable days recently we took to our favourite seaside walk along the Atlantic shores of Enniscrone in County Sligo, well kitted out with rainwear.

Passing a farmhouse that looks out over the rolling seas, an old friend of ours, a black male Labrador, left his sheltered station by the house and joined in the ramble as we moved down the quiet boreen dotted with primroses, the dog stopping every so often to mark out its territory. Some dogs are like that in Ireland: where people like to walk there are usually four-legged friends who like to saunter along for the company. When they get so far, they head back home again with a wag of their tail as if they are indicating ‘that’s my lot for today, see you next time.’

Anyway, we had just waved goodbye to our friend, whose name we don’t know, but reckon he must be called Blackie, when around the next corner as we edged our way out along the coast ledges, a woman greets us. Probably in her eighties, but as sprightly as a young thing, and with sparkling eyes to boot, stops, says hello (yes, we still do that in Ireland, some times) and points out the ruins of an ancient fort or castle, probably built five hundred years ago or more.

As we talk, seafaring topics, amongst other things, crop up, and our new friend, a cultured and well-read lady, perhaps a retired teacher, enquires if we have ever heard about the Wreck of the Hesperus, and without further ado, on the side of the boreen overlooking Killala Bay, begins to recite in the most animated manner Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s classic….


It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

As many of you will know, there are quiet a few verses in it, and she recited them all, perfectly, drawing from her memory haunting lines she probably learnt seventy years ago, as we stood enthralled.

Readers may remember that Longfellow drew his inspiration for the poem from the Great Blizzard of 1839 which engulfed the north coast of the United States for 12 hours starting on January 6, 1839, and destroying over 1000 ships with a loss of over 40,000 lives.

To cut a long story short, “The Wreck of the Hesperus” lays out the tragic consequences of a sea captain’s pride. On an ill-fated voyage in the winter, he had his daughter aboard ship for company, despite the advice of a veteran sailor who fears a hurricane is imminent.  When the hurricane strikes the captain ties his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being swept overboard; she calls out to her dying father as she hears the surf beating on the shore, then prays to Christ to calm the seas. The ship crashes onto the reef of Norman’s Woe and sinks; a horrified fisherman finds her body, still tied to the mast, drifting in the surf the next morning. The poem ends with a prayer that we all be spared such a fate “on the reef of Norman’s Woe”.

When our reciter finishes the last lines of the final verse, she smiles, bides us adiu, turns on her heel and heads down the road to the sea, perhaps to look for a sea mast, or more likely, to breath the vibrant sea air as the sun finally breaks through persistent clouds.

Who says a Sunday afternoon stroll in the countryside is not healthy, interesting, fulfilling and  entertaining!

Pastures new

So what do you do now that you are retired? an acquaintance I haven’t seen for some years, enquired recently.

“Retired,” I rejoin. “No, I’ve taken to a new field of opportunities,” I tell him, for, to be frank, life has never been busier. Since writing a few books I have acquired some wonderful overseas friends, including a long lost cousin in Australia, Larry, who is coaching me through research on my family tree. I know you Ameircan readers are big into your roots, and will no doubt have discovered the joys of working through FamilyHistorian, a clever and almost idiot-proof piece of software enabling you to  trace the various branches of the family. If you haven’t, Google it: it’ll cost you about 50 dollars to download.

So I have been up and down cemeteries, church records, data bases, and have quizzed my mother who has a great memory and can recall names of cousins and aunts and grandparents as if they were in the room with us. God, how I heard all the names before, the uncles and aunts who went to America, one of them on the ill-fated Titanic (she survived and prospered), the rows, the blacksheep (blessed is the family with blacksheep amongst their number!), what happened to the land, the business, etc. Trouble is, when you are young , the information goes in one ear and out the other! I am lucky my mother is still alive and has such a great memory, and with the help of  sister Freddie and cousin Larry, of course, so we are now back to around 1800 on both maternal and paternal sides…and driving on!

Hello, Nashville

Another friend proud of his roots is songwriter Rory Bourke who lives in Nashville and has strong links with Ohio. Rory’s great grandfather, John Bourke, left  Mayo in the middle of the Great Famine of the 1840s when one million perished and another million emigrated, including John.

He crossed the Atlantic on a famine ship circa 1847 to Montreal, in Canada, made his way to Olean, New York, and around 1862 met and married a Cork native. After a few years the Bourkes migrated to Lima, Ohio, to follow the oil boom, and Rory has many relations there today.

Rory Michael Bourke has won more than 45 ASCAP awards, including Writer of the Year in 1975, 1979, and 1983. He has written or co-written a long list of hit songs, including the 1973 worldwide blockbuster for Charlie Rich, “Most Beautiful Girl,” which he co-wrote with Bill Sherrill and Norro Wilson. Rory, a 1989 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, is also the recipient of a performance award from BMI. He developed an affinity for music during frequent childhood trips to the local movie theater in his hometown of Cleveland, where he soaked up all of the MGM musicals that came through town. A 1964 graduate of Mount Saint Mary’s College, he headed to Nashville that same year and found employment with Mercury C&W as a manager of promotion and sales. Among the songs he has written or helped write are George Strait’s “You Look So Good in Love,”Conway Twitty’s “I Couldn’t See You Leavin’,” and Anne Murray’s “Blessed Are the Believers,” “Shadows in the Moonlight,” and “A Little Good News.”

A more recent project was collaboration on a major CD set entitled This Is My America featuring two of Rory’s original numbers. Many American songwriters, artists, producers, musicians, engineers and industry professionals were involved in what was a unique project. Check it out on www.ThisIsMyAmerica.com

Rory Bourke’s latest song, “I Wouldn’t Be A Man” has been recorded by a great new artist, Josh Turner, so look out for it.  A couple of new CD’s are also in the offing. Check it out on the web. www.rorybourke.com

Nice talkin’ to you. Till next month slan.

*Article first apperared Irish American News Ohio, May 2009

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