On a brisk spring day about ten years ago, I spoke with my mother over steaming cups of Barry’s Tea in the kitchen of my first house in Cranford, NJ.
An uncle had recently retired and returned to County Kerry, after 40 years’ living and working in the U.S. This cycle seems to have always been enshrined as the emigrants' dream: Rest and reward at home after a life of labor in exile. Even after the days of the American Wake, it was rare, a miracle of sorts, to actually return from the great beyond.
I recalled that Mom had landed, here in the great beyond (at Idlewild Airport, to be precise), mere days before Kennedy was shot. To her credit, she refused to see this as an omen; within a decade, she had become a citizen.
"I suppose you'll be doing the same one of these days," I said. “Going back, I mean.”
She sipped, then shook her head slowly. "No," she said. "I couldn't leave America now. I'm changed too much."
She couldn’t have known it, but with those words, she made me two things I had never entirely considered myself before: The son of an American, and certain of where I belonged.
And now, with this collection, including some of the favorites I managed to sneak past Customs, I hope she’s reassured that we didn't arrive here empty-handed.
released 25 August 2010
Produced and performed by Patrick Clifford.
Jane, sine qua non— my best collaborator, my dearest friend, my own true love; Grace and Bennett, who make it all matter; Seamus, Kevin, and Bernadette, for the first years; Martin, Dave, and Keith, for the first miles.
ABOUT THE TITLE
An American Wake took place in an Irish home the night before a family member emigrated (usually to America), and included the same conjunction of sorrow and glad memories common to a traditional wake for the deceased. Friends and neighbors would come to say their last goodbyes, and to console the grieving parents.
At the time-- that is, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century-- ocean travel and life abroad were dangerous, communications were unreliable, and most poor Irish were illiterate. This night would have been not only the last time they might see each other, but also the last time they might even hear from each other, so the parting often felt as final as death.
The emigrant's steamer trunk was sometimes placed on a table, like a coffin on a bier.
For a powerful rendering of the event, read "The Year 1912," from The Road to Brightcity, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain.
“Thousands Are Sailing” by Philip Thomas Ryan (PRS), published by Wardlaw Music (BMI).
“The Narrowback,” “Paddy Yank’s Blues,” “The Golden Door,” and music to “Sea-Fever” by Patrick Clifford (ASCAP); © 2010 The Irish Side LLC (ASCAP).
All other tracks traditional, arranged by Patrick Clifford (ASCAP); © 2010 The Irish Side LLC (ASCAP).
Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.