They Called It Ireland
Corky Deir Rawson, condensed from The Last of the Magic,
her collection of short stories about growing up in Windsor. Available
at the Times office for $13.
The great miracle about St. Patricks Day is that it ever survived
the ravages each year of those dreadful school concerts, perpetuated
in the name of the patient old Saint of Erin! At best, the English
language was a second tongue to eighty-five percent of the pupils
at St. Cecilias Roman Catholic School in the 30s.
With names like Dubrowski and LeFevre, Brueghermann or Salamankis,
kids of every known dialect and coloring gave out what they imagined
to be typically Irish songs, presented in a cacophony of pseudo-Irish
In so lush and dense a forest of foreign sounds, the knack of replicating
a true Irish Brogue was rare indeed, but the Kellys and Muldoons
managed each year, to set things to rights, up there on the little
makeshift stage, in the sweaty miasma of the gymnasium. They knew
all the songs, and their voices, like little crystal bells, could
wring tears from the eyes of the nuns.
In 1934, Louise Mahoney and her twin sister Lucy moved from eastern
Ontario. They became a great new force for the Grade six sopranos.
They brought perfect pitch and voices like pure silver, quivering
One particular St. Patricks Day, (that of 1936), ten days
after the tenth birthday of the Mahoney twins, Louise was to sing
the soprano solo part of Danny Boy and the big opening
and closing numbers. But she wakened with a croaking case of laryngitis
and a worse case of panic.
Mrs. Mahoney directed a solid half hour of deep gargling with warm
salt water, punctuated by earnest supplications to the Blessed Mother
to restore the voice of the little soloist.
Ah Blessed Mary, Mother o God! And on the grand Saints
very day too! Wouldnt it do great honour to the old Bishop
to cure the young voice now, for the honour and glory o God
and all whove worked so hard for this day.
And she eased her way into several decades of the Rosary for these
petitions and others, while she was at it. Hail Mary full
o grace. The Lord is with thee,and over the anxious
womans prayers, the persistent, gutteral Aahrgghghghghgh
of the gargling treatment, to mend the young throat, on the practical
side of heavens influence.
And sure enough, at twenty minutes to nine, the twins shot out their
front door on Allendale as though from guns. The young throats were
wound about with woolen mufflers, like Egyptian mummies, wool toques
pulled well down against the cold, and breathing into the folds
of cloth, they strode out into the frosty morning.
They reached the heavy doors just as the last three girls trooped
in, the loud brass note of the bell humming frozen in the air.
Good morning girls, Happy St. Patricks Day to YOU!
the young pink-faced nun croons.
Good morning Mother Gerald, Happy St. Patricks Day to
YOU! the smooth, eager faces answer in chorus.
The concert will begin at 10:30 in the gymnasium and those
participating will be excused from class for rehearsal onstage,
A startling clang from the wall bell in the hall catapulted the
eight performers to their feet. In an orderly line, they marched
without a sound; they entered into the land of Irish song-and dance
on a wooden stage devoid of scenery, flats or real curtains.
With a low buzz, the audience filed into the gym to sit in graduated
rows of chairs on the uneven floor of polished wood. Then the big
lights in their wire mesh cages went dark, a makeshift curtain affair
clacked open and the lights over the stage went on, to reveal a
handpicked Irish choir of Czech, Lebanese, Syrian, Italian, French
Canadian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek and Portuguese girls, aged eight
to fifteen, singing at the top of their collective, multicultural
When Irish Eyes is Smilin
Sure tis like a morn is Spring
The ethnic voices drop to a hum, forming a reasonable background
for Louise Mahoneys clear solo. Her voice rises sweet and
true, giving joy to all, and glory to God and to Erin.
Theres a tear in your eye, and Im wondering why,
For it never should be there at all
In roars the boiling-pot of voices, stronger for the hum and the
When Irish Eyes is smilin
Sure tis like a morning-Spring
And on the last lines, the Mahoneys, the Kellys and
the Muldoons voices rise to the high soprano notes and hang
there forever, it seems. Sure theyll stee-heel yer heart
awayhayy and the audience sits transfixed, pinned
by that last note, its mutual skin in one gigantic goose bump, its
hair prickling and bristling up the back of its electrified neck.
Suddenly high emotion breaks, and applause comes in waves of rubber-handed
The concert of 36 was never topped. It stood out like the
flashing emerald jewel it was, in a sea of common pebbles, and Mrs.
Mahoney never forgot the finest details of her early morning throat-doctoring
to save her Louises keystone performance for the dear
little nuns. Each time shed tell the story, the basins
of saltwater-gargle would multiply, until theyd all been up
since four a.m. to put things right for the redoubtable St. Patrick
on his very own feast day, dont ya see?