Notes from the Island
Fifteen years ago I wrote a song called "Kilkelly", which was
based on letters that my great-great-great grandfather in Ireland
wrote to his son John who had emigrated to America. My brother
Steve and I recorded it and so did others. Probably the best known
version was done by Robbie O'Connell (a nephew of the Clancy
Brothers) and Mick Moloney, who performed it on a BBC special, which
was later edited for the Disney Channel.
Three months ago I received a phone call from Sean
O'Tarpaigh, who was calling from Kilkelly. He invited me to come to
their annual fair at the beginning of August and offered to pay my
expenses. I accepted and went with Steve, my mother Jinny and my
sister Emily. Sean and two others met us at the Shannon Airport
holding a large Irish flag, with "Kilkelly, Ireland" emblazoned across it.
Sean, a Kilkelly native, is a professional actor and the
artistic director for An Taibhdhearc, the Irish language theatre in
Galway. He and others had written a pageant based on my song, which
dramatized the history of Kilkelly and emigration out of Ireland.
Fifty of the townspeople acted in the pageant in the town square in
front of a thousand spectators. A local singer sang the song and I
had a small part reading from John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech.
Over four or five days we participated in a number of
festivities and I'm not sure I can do justice to the whirlwind of
activity. Some of the high points included singing the song during a
mass at the old churchyard, staying up late singing in the pubs,
watching a ceili dance at night in the square, cutting the ribbon on
the new art exhibit at the courthouse, singing the song on the local
radio, and competing with my brother in the potato picking contest.
Our ancestors are actually from Urlaur, a small village
outside of Kilkelly. We were lucky to be there for the "pattern", an
annual festival which involves mass in the abbey ruins, followed by
music, dancing and races. This pattern has been going on for
centuries and is mentioned in the old family letters. It is also the
time when people who have moved away come back to see friends and
relatives and we met several distant cousins, many of whom now live
in England and other parts of Ireland.
We had a wonderful time in Ireland because everyone was so
gracious and welcoming. It was moving for us to be given such a warm
reception and I think it was moving for others to meet a person from
Washington, D.C. who had written a song about their town and about
emigration, which still touches all of their lives.
-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker