It is one of those bittersweet moments when it comes time to say goodbye to another member of that generation of Irish immigrants who came to America for a better life and still managed to love two countries at the same time.
Last week saw the passing of John Thomas Ivers, 87, of Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo at his home in Pearl River just a month shy of his 88th birthday on September 12.
Ivers was one of many who emigrated in 1949 after World War II when opportunities for work were still scarce in Ireland, and over here met his wife of 55 years Annie, raised a family of two daughters (Maureen and Eileen) in Woodlawn in the Bronx and lived a life of faith and fidelity to his family, church and beloved countries.
While he realized his own American dream and instilled in his children a love and respect for the “old country,” he could never have imagined the heights that one of them would soar to on the Irish music scene.
Eileen, the youngest, was a child prodigy on the fiddle tutored by the legendary Martin Mulvihill (from Glin, Co. Limerick) in the Bronx and from an early age garnered nine gold medals as an All-Ireland champion.
That was just a prelude to her career as one of the most successful and recognized Irish fiddlers of her generation starting with Green Fields of America and Cherish the Ladies. She went onto play with a number of legends like Hall and Oates, Sting and Patti Smith, and burst into worldwide fame with Riverdance as the lead fiddler in the early years including its smash New York debut at Radio City Music Hall.
Eileen was one of the first Irish artists to land gigs with the Boston Pops and many symphony orchestras. Known more today as a fusion artist fueled by the sights and sounds of her native Bronx, she keeps an active schedule with her band Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul.
Last Saturday she and her older sister Maureen, a home health care nurse at Valley Hospital in New Jersey, planned a beautiful and respectful Mass of Christian burial for their father that befitted their close knit family.
There was Irish music tastefully included by Buddy Connolly, John Reynolds, Jerry O’Sullivan, Mary Coogan, Greg Anderson artfully complimenting the cantor for the occasion Bruce Foley, a well known Irish musician friend from Pittsburgh.
Eileen’s musical farewell was her own composition “Bygone Days” written years ago and a track on her Crossing the Bridge CD to acknowledge the many blissful summers spent in Ireland in her youth with the family in Mayo.
I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate salute to her dad, and it brought water to many an eye in St. Aedan’s Church in Pearl River as well.
Following that Maureen Bolduc gave the eulogy for her father, telling all in the congregation that day how grateful the family was for the gift of John Thomas Ivers, who labored for many years as a chauffer for KLM Airlines, no doubt adding to his welcome for Irish relatives and friends who would come over and be met by him at JFK Airport, a bewildering place for any one from the ould sod.
There was gratitude aplenty, she reminded us, for “a life well lived” for so many years.
There is a new home in Mayo on one of the father’s family fields in the pre-Famine village of Cultrasna a mile outside of Kiltimagh built by Eileen and her husband Brian Mulligan. You can be sure that tradition and the Ivers family will continue to enjoy the best of both countries and share it with the latest addition of the clan, Eileen and Brian’s adopted son, Aidan, who arrived from Russia two months ago.
It was one last blessing for John Thomas Ivers, who could now add yet another country to be grateful to for the gift of another grandchild.
Condolences to Annie, Maureen and Eileen and their extended families on the loss of “Seanie” Ivers who was laid to rest back in his adopted home in Woodlawn in the Bronx last Saturday.
Cards or notes can be sent to Musical Bridge, Inc, P.O. Box 157, West Nyack, New York 10994.