Memories of my father

Posted at 6/21/2009 1:22 AM EDT

"Every old man I see reminds me of my father
when he had fallen in love with death
One day when leaves were gathered"

-- Patrick Kavanagh

He was an older father.He married at 40 and had seven kids in rapid succession. He was 46 when I was born, same age as I was when my only child Alana came into the world.

He always seemed that little older, a man from another era as indeed he was. He was born one of fourteen kids, speaking only Gaelic on a little farm in the wilds of west Kerry in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of ireland.

That was in 1906 and times were hard. Many of his sibling would join the nunnery, the Christian Brothers monastery or the priesthood because it was a way out of the hardscrabble existence.He was different.

Somehow he learned English and found his way to teacher training college, the only one in his family to ever reach university education. He qualified and spent the rest of his life teaching and writing, always in his native Gaelic.

His journey was far greater than mine when you think of where he came from.He almost came to America, to Boston to a girlfriend who had gone before but she wrote to him about something awful called the Depression and told him to stay home.I'm glad he did.

He told a sad story once about a local man heading to Boston armed with a sign that he spoke little English.I would not have wanted that to be him.

Instead, a few years later, he met my mother at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis,where he was conducting a night class in what else, the Irish language. The pupil and teacher fell in love and married on January 2nd 1946. He was twelve years older but they were kindred souls for the next 32 years.

They settled in Tipperary where he got the coveted full time teaching job. Just two nights ago at an event at the Irish consulate in New York I met a man he taught. He too seemed old to me, from another era. He told me my father taught him Irish dancing too, as well as the language and that he could still recite the lines of poetry he learned from him.

He went ahead and did it. "Se fath Mo bhuartha nach dtagann tu chun chuirt liom." The source of my sorrow is you cannot come visit me,' the opening lines of one of the great Irish love poems of all times.

He was a passionate nationalist my father. He subscribed to the theory that you should burn everything British except their coal. He had seen too much during his childhood under British rule to ever buy into the post colonial nonsense that they weren't that bad after all.

The maddest I ever saw him was when the British army shot 13 dead on Bloody Sunday in 1972 in Derry.I know he felt again what he witnessed in Kerry during the final years of the British occupation.

He passed his passion for politics and reading onto me and many more in my family. It is his lasting legacy.I have two brothers in politics and I make my living as a scribe. This father's day I wish for one thing above all, a chance to sit and talk to him again, somehow, somewhere,in the next dimension to learn and explain all that went on in his life and what happened in mine. There would be so much to discuss.

Happy Father's Day, Dad, and to all of you other captains of the ship out there.

Safe sailing ahead.

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