I can only imagine if that became popular practice amongst the 40 million or so Irish-Americans, that pretty soon the whole island would be covered in a pile of ashes taller than the cliffs of Moher. A journey in the future to Ireland would more resemble a scene from Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road', than a walk through the beautiful verdant Irish country-side.
Anyway it reminded me of a story I had heard several years ago, from a friend of mine, let’s call him Brian, who worked in a 'public services' office in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. It took several rounds of Arthur Guinness to extract the whole story from Brian, but I thought it well worthwhile, and it went something like this.
One day Brian received in the post (mail) a 'package' that was postmarked from a small town in a mid-western US state.
It was simply addressed to 'The Manager', Galway Bay, Galway, Ireland. How it ended up on his desk is anyone's guess, probably the postman’s idea of a joke, but being of a curious nature he opened it up. Inside the package was what looked like a good sized ornamental tin 'cigar' box and an envelope containing 2 x $100 bills, with an accompanying note.
Anyway, he always used to say that when he died, he wanted to be buried in Ireland. He'd sing what he called rebel songs when he had drink on him, which was often enough, and at the end of each song he'd shout something about his ‘Boss Inerin’, or ‘Erin’, I think it was, as I said, he had a thick brogue.
Anyway, my Pat, well he never was a good traveller when he was alive, so rather than ship his casket home, I had him cremated and I'd really like it if you could arrange for his ashes (see enclosed urn) to be scattered on Galway Bay, 'cause he loved that song so much. I hope the small donation I have enclosed will cover any costs.
Thanks in advance for your kind help.
Well, after my friend Brian’s initial shock, needless to say, he wanted nought to do with Pat’s ashes, so he decided it might be a good job to delegate, as any good manager should, and present the problem elsewhere.
Now down in the City Clerk's office, worked a drinking buddy of Brian’s, Sean Galvin. He was in charge of ‘Public Works’, whatever that entailed, but he was known to be a man that ‘got things done’. Over a pint Brian explained his dilemma to Sean. He was not interested at first, but agreed to help out, as he felt it was the least he could do for a fellow Galwegian. (if that's indeed what the said Paddy Naughton was?).
They figured that he'd give the cigar box and $100 to his yard foreman and that he would look after the scattering. The other $100 they both agreed would go into the reserve kitty in O’Connell’s Select Bar, on Eyre Square for supplication for themselves, given the 'trauma' this dilemma had already caused they. They thought they deserved that much at least for their trouble. Little did they know!
About three weeks later, on the last Friday of the month, as was their wont, the two friends met for pints around five at O’Connell’s. Sean from the City Clerk’s office was in a black mood. 'What's the matter, Sean?' Brian asked, after the first quaff of liquid black had quenched his thirst. Silence, and a glare that would freeze blood from Sean.
Brian sidestepped Sean’s ignoring of the question and after a few more sips of his pint, he tackled Sean again.
Stories were told, deeds recounted and songs were sung. The pints and half-ones were flying and pretty soon a proper Irish wake was well in progress.
The lid of the tin box however had been mechanically cinched closed, and he could not open it with his hand, so he asked if any of the Claddaghmen had a knife he could borrow, in order to prise the box containing the ashes, open.
Well everyone knows that no self-respecting Claddagh fisherman would ever lend another his knife, for no good would ever come of it. One man had a knife, a lethal looking thing about 8’’ long, that had filleted many a fish in its day, but he was reluctant to share it. Mick persisted, asking him again to hand him the knife, and leaning into him in a manner that could be mistaken for a threat.
So the man with the knife, one of the Lydons, you know him, the big red-haired fellah with the glass eye, well he takes out this big knife out of his boot and goes to grab the box from Mick to do the opening himself. Well one thing led to another and while the bugler continued sounding a staccato version of 'The Queen of Connemara' the two big men grappled each other for the box and for the knife.
The outcome was as predictable as it was inevitable. Almost simultaneously, the knife was driven deep into Mick's arm, splashing blood on half a dozen onlookers. And the tin box, well having been squeezed so hard by both men in the melee, it suddenly burst open at the bottom seam and the ashes, a really fine turf-ash powder I'm told, exploded all over the two men and aided by a sudden strong gust of contrary westerly wind, the fine ash cloud completely engulfed the entire group on the pier.
To add to the fracas a flotilla of the famous Claddagh swans and ducks converged on the group thinking that feeding time had come in the shape of the falling ash, and as luck would have it, they were aggressively hungry and went about pecking at every crotch that came within range, as only a swan can. Not to be outdone two rival skirmishing flocks of seagulls and pigeons descended on the group from their roosting places on the Spanish Arch and pretty soon the melee on the pier looked rather like a scene from a remake of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.
The Scattering. Mylesnag – May 31, 2009.