Searching for a song

Sep 24th, 2009 | By | Category: Ireland

We got into the car at 4.15 on a June morning.  The  black clouds that filled the sky concealed what dawn there might have been; the rain lashed against the windscreen.

No matter what the weather, there was only one track to be played.  The CD was slipped from its box and pushed into the player.

“All the leaves are brown and the skies are grey  . . .”

There was laughter in the back. “You have been waiting to play that”.

The airport was crowded at 5.00.  The bags were taken to the Aer Lingus check in and the boarding cards through to San Francisco printed off.  Never having set foot on a plane until the age of 23, it was amazing to watch two sixteen year olds set off for the West Coast.

Looking out at the looming clouds of an autumn evening, the words of ‘California dreamin’ came to mind.  The browning of the leaves and the dark skies prompting imagination of that mythical land where winter and sadness have no place.  Perhaps to travel there would shatter the illusion; perhaps, like heaven, California is the hope of something more, something greater.

Contemplating the thought of a Transatlantic flight, I remembered a conversation with a friend, now in her 80s, who had never flown anywhere, but is always happy.  Perhaps if happiness is not here, it’s not to be found anywhere.  The gentle conversation of Grattan Fitzmaurice, William Trevor’s country Rector in The Hill Bachelors, with Father Leahy, his Catholic counterpart captures a character who finds contentment on his own doorstep.

‘I never left Ireland,’ Father Leahy said. ‘I have never been outside it.’

‘Nor I.’ The silence after that was part of the dark, easily there, not awkward. And Grattan said, ‘I love Ireland.’

They loved it in different ways: unspoken in the dark, that was another intimation. For Grattan there was history’s tale, regrets and sorrows and distress, the voices of unconquered men, the spirit of women as proud as empresses. For Grattan there were the rivers he knew, the mountains he had never climbed, wild fuchsia by a seashore and the swallows that came back, turf smoke on the air of little towns, the quiet in long glens. The sound, the look, the shape of Ireland, and Ireland’s rain and Ireland’s sunshine, and Ireland’s living and Ireland’s dead: all that.

Perhaps we need our own songs of dreaming; not the laments for the dead or the ballads of lost loves, not the songs which variously combine love and death and the land and drink, and sometimes all four together, but songs filled with optimism, songs that can bring laughter, even on a dark and wet morning.

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  1. my eldest grandaughter, Lil,was born into difficult times for my daughter – we chose Bowie’s Kooks as a emblem. We have a family ritual where we put it on the record player and dance together. Lily – and now her sister Connie – love it and insist we play it whenever we have a family gathering (and hold hands and dance)

  2. I think there is something about some songs that makes you feel optimistic. I know a woman who had ‘One step beyond’ at her husband’s funeral.

  3. Irish songs do seem to be a bit dour and sad I have to admit. Or perhaps I just don’t know enough of them. I haven’t got a ‘special’ song. As for never travelling. Having done a little in my time, I couldn’t imagine a life where you never step beyond your own borders.

  4. There are lively Irish songs – they are mostly about drinking.

    When you think of the things Americans can romanticize (look at Wichita Lineman!), there does seem a lot of dirge-like stuff here.

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