In 1994 I went to Ireland. I was 43 and I travelled alone. It was my first overseas trip. Prior to that, my only experience of plane flight had been in a 24 seater plane to Brisbane and a mystery flight to Adelaide. I had always proclaimed that nothing smaller and a Jumbo Jet or the Queen Mary would ever see me leave terra firma! It was while I was in Ireland that I had one of my great myths about the Irish debunked.
On the feast of Christ the King, I found myself in the Cathedral in Killarney. This was towards the end of my trip. Before then of course I had been to Mass in just about every town I went to. In Dublin, I went to midday Mass on the Friday I arrived – it was packed to the gills but without singing. I saw two young girls, grubby looking little things begging on the steps. I did not give them any money but about ten minutes later I was nearly bowled over by the pair of them as they raced up the streets, grins all over their faces, licking huge ice creams!
In Shannon I went to a vigil Mass and was asked by the priest if I would play something for the crowd – no singing but perhaps I might like to play something so I did a rendition of Amazing Grace with my ever so lovely key change for the final verse. It went down like a lead balloon – obviously I had overstayed my welcome and stretched the evening liturgy beyond its acceptable use by time and people literally bolted out the door to get free of the place nearly taking out the exiting priest and altar boys! I found the Church in Tralee and Dun Laoghaire – where I encountered an entire family of Indian beggars. But it was in Killarney that I was filled with sense of hope as I heard the magnificent pipe organ being warmed up 10 minutes before the start of Mass.
AT LAST! Frantically I searched for hymn books – none to be had. Rifling through the copy of the notices I had collected on the way into the Church, thinking the words to hymns might be included all I could find was a price list for the forthcoming parish “bazaar”! Just before Mass began a beautiful little pip squeak of an Irish young woman – red hair and all – climbed up to the microphone and in a glorious Irish brogue said “Today is the feast of Chroist the King. Please join in singing our entrance hymn. “Here we go,” I thought. The organ thumped out the introduction, the girl leaned forward, nearly swallowing the microphone and from out of her mouth came the tiniest, thinnest, most faltering voice I have ever heard – and hers was the ONLY voice I could hear! Not another set of jaws in the entire congregation open to allow any kind of utterance and it continued throughout the Mass. I was so disappointed.
Come communion, our singing “leader” announced “Please join in the singing of the hymn Chroist be beside me – the breastplate of St Patrick.” Well, I knew this one and I let rip. All the way up the aisle in the queue only stopping to say “amen” to “the body of Chroist” and all the way back to my pew. People stared at me, I thought in admiration of my beautiful voice. I felt uplifted and inspired. Here I was bringing back the DNA of my Irish Convict great great grandfather and my indentured servant great great grandmother, adding my voice to the voices of Irish history! What an idiot! I asked my good friend who ran the B&B I was staying at about the reluctance of the people to sing”Oh, Louise! You didn’t singing in Church did you? Jaysus they’ll be thinking you are a protestant. Only protestants sing in Church! De Catholics have choirs for de singing!”