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An Irish Fourth of July

This is an excerpt from Mal’s book Now Why Is It Ye’re Comin ta Ireland?

Dad was a seriously patriotic American, a WWII veteran. He also was a firework admirer, probably pre-dating his role in field artillery. At any rate he and Maria were thrilled to bring the US 4th of July to Doonaha. Here is that story:

 

An Irish Fourth of July

by Mal Bellairs

We had it! Fireworks! Of course, they were totally against the law. No plane would allow them as luggage. The Irish customs guards hated any form of explosives. That was understood.

Somehow a supply arrived and the word got around that when it was dark, about midnight, there would be fireworks. Everyone turned up. All the children came. Most of them including parents who had never been close to fireworks. No, we did not do a Chicago type show and we did not have explosives. We had sparklers, some sky rockets, roman candles, cones, that sort of thing. Michael Galvin and I took our supply inside the school yard behind the wall and the crowd formed in the road on the other side. It was so exciting. We passed out sparklers to the children and you have never seen such eyes. Anything that went up in the sky caused such oohs and ahs! We were a huge success. Life in the pub and out in the road continued till very late. The Gardai, happily for us, did not make an appearance. On a scale of 1 – 10 we were a 10.

And so it went on year after year. One year our dear friend Ed Wolowiec who owns the Port Edward Restaurant in Algonquin came to visit. Ed is a talented musician and he brought his flute. The Irish love music. Ed also brought green T-shirts with “O’Curry Arms, Doohaha, Ireland” on them. Everyone in the parade wore one. He played and played and you have never heard such silence. Ed admits he is not James Galway, but for us all he was “The Best in the West.” Now we had to plan for yet bigger and better for the following year.

Maria bought me a set of bagpipes. No, I could not play them, but they made a fine decoration on the outer reception wall. Here was my idea for the next year’s festivities. Ed owned a small stereo cassette player with two tiny speakers that could generate considerable volume. I went to a friend in Woodstock who has a recording studio and found a tape of a pipe doing MacNamaras Band. We made a cassette and took it and Ed’s cassette player with us. On the big night our troop once again slipped up to the church and formed up. Maria tied the pipes on me. Really, it was the only way. They were flopping all over. Someone alerted the Pub and everyone came outside. There I did a solo. Maria pushed the start button and I marched down the street pantomiming like crazy. The crowd got into it and started singing. I stomped around, squeezed the bellows or whatever you call it, and faked like mad. I will never know for sure but I do think some of them thought I really was playing. One of the old boys came up to me later and said, “That was grand. You know there’s good money being paid to pipe at weddings.” I did not tell him I only could play one song.

One year, I cannot remember which, we went to Michael and asked him about live music for the affair. Michael knew everyone and hired a group called the Bannermen. They came every 4th of July for a long time and became family. After the parade they would play for dancing. Then all would go outside for fireworks and back for serious pubbing. These were good times. The 4th of July made its mark.

Over time, we had many a long discussion about Irish food. One interesting fact was that there was no such thing as Irish corned beef and cabbage. They just did not know what corned beef was. Perhaps by now they do. Irish bacon and cabbage is different in that the bacon is like a chunk of uncured ham. Combined with cabbage tit is a staple food of County Clare people. I doubt if Dubliners know about it.

We decided to bring American corned beef to Ireland. Just like fireworks, it is not legal to import meat products. Somehow the word went out to all people coming to Ireland. Purchase a good sized corned beef. Wrap it carefully and freeze. Bring it! At the 4th of July affair we provided food, loaves and loaves of bread and trays and trays of corned beef. The Irish are great eaters with huge appetites. You should have been there.

We were aware that the whole community looked forward to our 4th of July parties. We loved the togetherness we all shared. I believe the summer of 1992 was a climax. We decided to start with a big picnic on our front lawn and we invited the village and many families from the area. It just so happened that it was a perfect day, warm and no wind. We moved all the tables and chairs out to the front. Gwen and John Miller were there and we all worked like mad. Maria and Gwen made tons of potato salad. I set up my Weber grill out front and we had a hamburger, potato salad, beer bash to end all. Everybody came including the Bannermen and their wives. There between our two countries’ flags we had a genuine home town picnic.

Later that evening the weather turned on us and by the time for fireworks, the rain was coming down in sheets. We stayed inside and danced, sang and partied. I promised we would do the fireworks before we were scheduled to leave on August 3rd.

Word went out. August 2nd was the night. We had a much larger than normal supply of fireworks. A contact in Japan and Ireland had obtained the “good stuff” and by some quirk of fate it had arrived intact.

The crowd assembled outside and the night was calm. Well, we really did it. We rattled windows for miles. Our sky rockets out did anything we’d ever presented before. We even amazed ourselves. Michael and I were brilliant.

As we reached our smoky climax and were congratulating each other, we saw the headlights of a car hurtling toward us. The local Gardai pulled up, rolled down his window and without any sign of good humor gritted out, “And what’s going on here?”

If you remember that was the very day that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I, still high with delight over our celebration, came out with, “Didn’t you hear, the Iraqis have just invaded Ireland!” It was not the best reply. With a steely look he said, “I should have known you’d be mixed up with this. Now let me tell you what you’ve done. The lighthouse across the river in Kerrry saw the rockets you fired and thinks a ship is sinking in the river. He called the rescue service in Shannon Airport and they are about to send a helicopter to the rescue.” With that he reached for his phone and called Shannon. “You can call it off. It is just the bloody Yanks having themselves a party.”

He gave me a stern look and one of the locals behind me whispered, “Ah, take no note of him. This keeps them on their toes.”

With that he rolled up his window while growling, “Let’s have no more of this!”

He roared off and everybody cheered. We retired to the pub and the rest of the night I could not buy a drink. I became the Hero of County Clare. At one point there were 6 pints of Guiness and three Irish whiskies on the bar in front of me.

In 1993 on July 2, the Sergeant came to call. We invited him in for a cup of tea. We talked about the weather, our guests, the big football match and finally as I was trying to figure out just why he had come, he let it slip out, “Oh about the 4th of July!” So that was it.

I responded, “Sergeant, we haven’t any fireworks at all this year. Our source has dried up.”

With relief he said, “Well, I just thought I ought to inquire. We’ll miss the excitement.”

It was obvious. I had been forgiven for my sins.

 

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