When I visited Ireland six years ago, I felt a pull for something I couldn’t explain. It wasn’t until recently that I understood the reason. I became an orphan and a close friend advised me to research my family. I learned I’m only a second-generation American on my father’s side. His mother grew up in Avoca, Wicklow, Ireland, and her family emigrated to America in the early 1900s to work in the copper mines of Butte, Montana. I wanted to return to Ireland and visit Wicklow; I wanted to write about my grandmother. Coincidentally, when browsing writing websites, I met Elaine Nolan, a writer, composer, and musician who lives in Carlow, Ireland. Our friendship grew and before long we skyped and exchanged thoughts about our writing projects. It was a rush to watch in real time on my computer in Alaska as Elaine launched her novel, Of Heroes and Kings, at a Carlow pub in Ireland. When I began to publish stories I’d email them to Elaine for feedback. Then, out of the blue last fall, Elaine asked me to write a song for an Ireland Easter Rising Centenary celebration concert she was producing in April 2016, in Maynooth, Kildare. Ireland was celebrating 100 years of independence from Great Britain. Elaine suggested I write the lyrics from the viewpoint of a descendant of Irish emigrants to America. I read Elaine’s email and froze. Me? Write a song? This posed a daunting task for me. I’d written a few short stories, but what did I know about songwriting? I hadn’t even written poetry. This was somewhat intimidating, because let’s face it—Ireland is THE land of music and songwriting. My immediate thought was: I’m not worthy! I’m not Bono—or Enya. I hemmed and hawed, but Elaine wouldn’t take no for an answer; I was committed. I embarrassed myself by asking if the 1916 Easter Rising was a religious holiday about Jesus rising from the dead. She laughed. “You Americans are so clueless. Google TheProclamation of Independence for the Republic of Ireland, it’s the most important document in Irish history because it signified a turning point in Ireland’s fight for independence from Britain. Then get back to me.” I googled. I learned on April 24, 1916, the Irish Citizen Army wrote The Proclamation during a rebellion known as the 1916 Easter Rising, so named because it took place Easter weekend. Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders, read the Proclamation in front of the General Post Office in Dublin to declare Ireland’s independence from Britain. The seven leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising knew when they signed the Proclamation, they would face a British firing squad should their insurrection fail. It did, Pearse surrendered on April 29, 1916, and the British executed the seven leaders, but the Rising succeeded as a catalyst for the Irish to pursue their independence. As I read the Proclamation for ideas on song lyrics, I pictured the Irish fleeing their homeland during the 1840s famine. It led me to research the history behind Ireland’s struggle for independence. I thought about America’s struggle for freedom and the sacrifices made to keep it. The process of researching Ireland’s struggle for freedom led me to appreciate America’s in a way I hadn’t before. I drafted some lyrics, held my breath and hit the ‘send’ button to Elaine. “If you don’t like this draft, I’ll write another.” “No need to write another, I like this one,” she replied. I was knocked back, I couldn’t believe she liked it. Our music project became reality when Elaine emailed me the sheet music and called it Dear Ireland. It was fun collaborating with a friend half a world away on something I never in a million years thought I could do. Elaine worked tirelessly, first composing all of the concert pieces, then pulling together musicians and singers for the concert. She invited me to come, so I made plans to be there on April 10th. When I told her I was coming, she invited me to sing with the choir alto section for several music pieces she had composed. When I arrived in Carlow, she informed me her tenor was sick, and would I please read my lyrics while she played the cello? I became weak in the knees, but didn’t want to disappoint my friend. We miraculously pulled it off without rehearsal.
When I chose to be a writer, if you would have said all this would happen because of it, I would have rolled my eyes with a “yeah, right.” But look where writing has led me—doing things I never dreamed I could do. This was a good lesson: as writers, we should always try new things. I’m ready to try something new again—maybe tackle a historical fiction novel set in Wicklow—or write a poem. What the heck, I wrote a song didn’t I?
Dear Ireland ~ You became the dreams they dreamed, freedoms borne of war, Some stayed to fight the tyranny, to settle up the score. The sixteen hundred all stood firm, determined to be free, Your children told the stories of Padraig and Connelly. Your exiled children’s stories were told in another land, They were exiled to a liberty they did not understand. Their broken hearts for those they loved, the ones that stayed with you, Sons and daughters know the sacrifice, this freedom gift from you. And from this cost and sacrifice, their hard-won liberty, on east and west Atlantic shores, freedom wasn’t free. O Ireland, all your children know ’twas hard-won liberty… hard-won liberty.
Lois Paige Simenson lives in Eagle River and writes for newspapers, magazines, and blogs at loispaigesimenson.com. She is working on two novels, The Butte Girls Club and Otter Rock.