This story first appeared in our sister publication, the Irish Voice newspaper, on October 16, 2001
"Will you hold my hand?" asked Lauren Murphy as she braced herself to greet her husband's mourners. Lauren was speaking to Paddy Moloney, founder of the Chieftains, the Grammy award winning musical ambassadors of Ireland.
Moloney and the band had come to New York specially to play at the memorial service for Lauren's husband Matthew, who considered himself the Chieftains' biggest fan.
Matthew O'Mahony, a merchant banker for Cantor Fitzgerald, had been on the 95th floor of Tower One on September 11. His death brought thousands of mourners to St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue on the afternoon of October 10, 2001.
It also brought the Chieftains to grieve the loss of their number one fan. "He never missed any of our concerts," said Moloney sadly. Moloney wanted to come for Lauren, but he also felt that he had some work to do in New York.
Down at Ground Zero the following day, almost no one went untouched as the Chieftains leader remembered the fallen. As mechanical diggers and rescue workers worked side by side in the shadow of the breaking day, Moloney played his tin whistle surrounded by a small group of Irish cops, friends and his daughter Edin.
Moloney played the haunting "Taimse 'imo Chodladh" (I am asleep, don't wake me), an Irish wake song. As the weight of devastation sat heavy on the crowd's hearts Moloney played another lament "Dochas" (hope).
The old Irish tradition of waking the dead that inspired Moloney to come to Ground Zero also made a difference to the rescue workers as they stopped, in the midst of smoke rising from the pits, to gaze at the sight of a small man playing music larger than the city itself.
"When I left the service yesterday, I knew my work here was not done. I felt my visit was not complete," he said. "I hadn't planned to play those tunes, I hadn't rehearsed.
“That often happens; you get inspired at that very split second. Then as I played I felt I saw them, all the faces, faces without images. The mechanics of the music disappeared and my heart went into it. I got the shivers up my back. But now I feel more relaxed," he said as he prepared to catch a flight back to Ireland. His personal tribute was done.
His time here in New York had been trying. Spending time with Lauren as she said goodbye to her husband of two years was important to Moloney and the band.
"About two weeks ago Lauren called our office. She told us about Matty-O and how he had loved our band. She said she would love nothing better than for us to play at his memorial service. So at that request we said we would come," said Moloney.
Lauren had met the band in her work with David Letterman's talk show as a publicist for Island Records, and knew her husband was a huge fan. She asked them to play at what she called a Celebration of Life for the man she loved, the man who had lived life so fully.
Lauren had asked Moloney to play Van Morrison's song "God Shine His Light On Me" but without Morrison, Moloney said he couldn't. Instead he played "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" and Lauren, still brave in her emotions, smiled.
The band, which has been playing for 39 years, felt moved to play for the 39-year-old Irish American who had a special place in his heart for the auld sod.
One of Matthew's closest friends told how Matt once said that he liked being up that high in the World Trade Center every day, because on a clear day he could see the mountains of Ireland.
When he met Lauren three years ago he took her to Ireland to propose. A year later they were married in St. Ignatius Loyola by the same priest, Father Mark Halligan, who stood on the altar to mourn him.
As the crowd settled for the service, Matthew's picture adorned the altar, the Chieftains poised to the right. At Communion, by special request, the Chieftains played "Danny Boy," a song that is not their own.
"Lauren asked us to play it. It wasn't one of ours but it sounded great in the church. It was a personal touch, she said he loved the song," said Moloney.
"I really didn't know him but I have gotten to know him in the last few days. I tell you, I would have loved to have gone for a pint with him," he added, echoing the feelings of many of the mourners who had not known Matthew, but left the church feeling that they had.
"It is so hard to say goodbye, said Matthew's best friend Adam Levy. "I can't imagine what life will be like without him. The only words that can describe him are Yeats' ‘Think where man's glory most begins and ends. And say my glory was I had such friends.’”
"Can someone please let Rudy Giuliani know that Matty-O was the real mayor of New York City," his college roommate Andy Schoendfeld said.
As the service ended and the crowd spilled onto Park Avenue, the choir sang Van Morrison's "God Shine His Light on Me" and the Chieftains played "Limerick's Lamentation," a lilt that brought sad smiles to Matthew's friends. Then it was over, but the memory of a wonderful life will live on long after the horrific events that ended it.
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