Daniel Berrigan Walt Whitman Martin Sheen Nick Virgilio Edwina Gateley Mother Theresa Thich Naht Hahn Mairead Corrigan Mick Maloney Eugene O’Donnell Barbara Dever Harry Reasoner Othmar Carli Sister Peg Hynes Cesar Chavez Eileen Egan Paddy Doherty Michael Flatley Tommy Sands Lester Conner Father Des Wilson
FAMOUS FACES AT SACRED HEART
When Eugene O’Donnell lifts his violin, and plays the slow Irish airs, no one in the world can do it better. The music almost lifts him off the ground. He still stands on his toes but his body and soul leap and stretch out on the strings as the most exquisite sound rises and touches the heart with a haunting sweetness.
In 1957 he emigrated to Philadelphia from his beloved Derry, that marvelous city on Foyle with the heroic history; its name, the oak, sacred to the druids who preceded its holy patron, St. Columba. It is the great gateway city of County Derry and also Donegal, situated on the edge of Inishowen, that enchanted land between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle.
Eugene, bears the famous clan nbame of the O’Donnell, whose great chief Red Hugh with his contemporary Hugh O’Neill are heroic stars in the national memory. They were forced to leave Ireland after the Battle of Kinsale at the beginning of the seventeenth century and from the consequences of that loss, Ireland has suffered since. “But the lively limbs of the clans remained.” In Eugene O’Donnell’s fiddle, we hear the ache of Ireland’s soul, weeping with Diedre long ago, or The Mother in Pearse’s poem in 1916 or Rosalyn Sands in ’81.
On November 9, 1977, six years before her death, my mother came to Sacred Heart. It was her birthday and Eugene came. After dinner, he lifted his fiddle, stood before her and played three lovely airs to her They were her gift on that happy day. I still see her sitting erect on the edge of a green couch listening to his awesome sound. It flooded her soul with the tears of her wet doorstep long ago when eight of her twelve brothers and sisters parted from their weeping parents, to cross the wide-wide Atlantic; some never to come home again. She bore the sweet memory of Eugene and his music into eternity.
My thanks is my poem “A Salute to Eugene 0′ Donnell.”
An acorn fell on the lips of the Foyle
In the dark of a winter’s day
It fell in the wisp of a thrush’s nest
That the wind had torn away.
The wisp was set in a druid’s track
As he walked through Inishowen
The dent of his heel in a flaxen field
‘Twas there the seed was sown.
The thrush kept watch from a whitethorn bush
‘Til a bard came by in May
Sang a lonesome note he heard in his heart
And buried the seed in clay.
The oak grew tall and Colum came
To sing in the shade below
The songs of old that the thrush had heard
And the new that she didn’t know.
But the robin said with a modest nod
This bright new sound is good
It’s the Lord of life who died and rose
I wear His badge of blood.
The son of God and the planet’s sun
Go back to the primal night
When a kiss on the mouth of the purest dark
Made a smile of broad day light.
So the birds sang loud on the oak tree top
And mixed the old with the new
And the harpers heard in the fields below
And the children heard them too.
The Chieftains glanced at their native sky
The clouds a cross on the sun
They bade farewell to their holy hills.
And sailed out one by one
But the lively limbs of the clans remained
And danced to the dawning day
With bodhrans, flutes and violins
They kept their grief at bay.
And the Derry air was a breath of life
On a cold and frosty day
It whistled bright on summer’s morn
It choked on famine clay.
It rode the lonesome Foyle to sea
In the boats that went away
It sighed at night in foreign fields
But it rose at dawn to play.
It lifted high the people s “NO”
To heavy hands that held them down
That tried to take their sacred leaf
And crush it with a crown.
But life took wing in the sadness there
When O’Donnell rose with a daring bow.
To play the notes that the thrush had heard
And the songs that the people know.
He stood where bardic feet have stood
And soared his tunes where angels hear
He saved the whispers of the wind
And the kiss of light upon the tears.
He carved his fiddle from bits of time
And stretched his sinews into strings
He built his bow from human ties
His pain and joy made it sing.
From It’s a Terrible Day – Thanks Be to God