Ryan McCarthy picked up the padded envelope he had received in the mail this morning. Then he walked over to his small office in the back of Durty McCarthy’s inn and restaurant. The sticker on the envelope offered a “spectacular” deal for promotional items “to improve your business awareness. Buy 100 pens with your logo for only 55 cents a piece.”
Once inside the office, he locked the door and took a seat at an antique oak desk. He opened the top drawer and removed an odd looking electronic device in the shape and size of a shoebox. He carefully opened the box, and the cover’s interior revealed a small display. He pulled a small keyboard from the inside and powered the device up. After a startup and self-check procedure, the small computer system displayed the first message.
“Your Son?” it showed, and he typed the answer.
“My priDe aNd joY.”
While the device was working on decoding and verifying the password, Ryan opened the envelope and removed a blue pen with a single line, “Durty McCarthy’s,” printed on it. Without further consideration, he threw the envelope and remaining contents into the wastebasket and checked the message on the screen. When it showed “Okay” he pulled the top off the pen and stuck the open end into the small device’s USB port.
What a difference, he thought, remembering the times when they had to deal with slower and much less reliable floppy-disks.
He pressed another key and the display showed “Working.” When it was done, he quickly removed the USB stick and walked over to the other desk with a modern PC workstation on it. It was already powered up. He stuck the pen into the USB port. The program inside the USB stick was designed to access thousands of web sites and retrieve small individual pieces of information from each site.
When it was finally done, it opened the computer’s web browser and displayed a basic text document. He had just started scanning the text when he heard a sequence of knocks on the door.
“Come in, son,” he called, but quickly realized that the door was locked. He leaned over and turned only the lock handle.
Andy opened the door, peeking into the small office space, and saw his father sitting at the desk.
“Welcome back,” Ryan said, turning away from the computer screen and looking at his son. “How did it go?”
“I had to drop him off about a kilometer or two away from the pickup point,” Andy answered. “There were road blocks.”
He nodded to the computer screen. “You probably know more than I do at this point.”
“I just started reading. Come, sit here and join me.”
Andy took a chair, sat next to his father, and they anxiously and silently scanned the screen. When they were finished reading, they both had a satisfied smile on their face. Things were in order.
“I will go and have a shower,” Andy said as he got up from his chair, “and then I will come down to help at the bar.”
Ryan closed the program and started the USB stick’s self-destruct procedure.
“Take it easy, son,” he said while curiously observing the small cloud of smoke emerging from the stick.
“Your mother and I will deal with the bar. Just come down, join us for supper, and then have a good night’s sleep. You deserve it.”
Andy nodded and left the office while his father closed the small brick-size device and stored it back into the drawer. There he stood for a little while, in thoughts, a smile stuck on his face, and he shook his head. Then he turned and left the room, locking the door carefully behind him.
About half an hour later, Andy had finished his shower, shaved, and put on some good cologne. His hair was still damp when he went down the stairs toward the pub. It was already decently filled, and a session was in progress at the table in the far corner.
He noticed two fiddles, a guitar, an accordion, an Uilleann pipe, and a bodhrán. They had just finished “The Bell Harbour,” and, without a noticeable break, continued with “The Ivy Leaf.”
Also sitting with them was his father with a full glass of beer in his hand. When he saw his son, he gestured at him to take a chair beside him. He nodded to the musicians, and both Ryan McCarthy and his son Andrew patiently waited for the song to end.
It was a rare occasion that the publican would join a session, and as soon as they had finished the last song, the players held on to their instruments and looked at Ryan in anticipation. Even beyond Cahersiveen and the county of Kerry, he was famous for his clear and strong voice. Whatever his performance would be that night, the musicians were prepared to follow his lead.
Ryan McCarthy waited a few moments until he was sure he had the undivided attention of the expecting crowd in front of him.
“Tonight,” he finally said, “I will take the opportunity, and sing a song in remembrance of all those who fought for the freedom of this proud nation, and, most certainly, there is no song better suited than ‘The Boys of Barr Na Sráide.’ ”
A murmur of excitement filled the room, and the musicians laid down their instruments. This next song would be performed a capella.
Ryan’s eyes scanned through the room. “I see, we have a good number of tourists from America here tonight, and, so you can enjoy the song to its full extent, I will explain a few things.”
He took a sip from his beer and continued.
“The song I am about to sing is based on a poem by Sigerson Clifford, who was born here in Cahersiveen, and it tells the story of the boys of Barr Na Sráide – Top Street – who hunted for the wren.
“You see, on the 26th day of December, we celebrate the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen. However, the tradition of St. Stephen’s Day long predates Christian rituals. It is also known as Lá an Dreoilín, the day of the wren.
“Birds like the wren have a long tradition in Irish mythology. Druids used their flight patterns as auguries. Mysteriously, the wren also had a reputation for treachery, and it is blamed for betraying St. Stephen.
“This explains why the wren was hunted on St. Stephen’s Day and nailed to a pole. There it would serve to head what we call the Mummers Parade. People dress in strange clothing. They wear masks or straw suits and march accompanied by musicians. In some areas of Ireland, they call them the Mummers, and in others they call them the Wrenboys.”
He glanced around the room, making certain he still had everybody’s attention.
“Be assured, these days the wren survives. It is only used in rhymes and the name of the day.”
He paused briefly to take another sip.
“Through the lyrics of the song,” he continued, “Sigerson Clifford not only captures the essence of our town, Cahersiveen, as it climbs the mountains and looks upon the sea.
“He also remembers his boyhood friends, when they were children, and when they grew up to fight for the freedom of our country, to fight the Black and Tans, and up to the civil war.
“As all of us know, the Irish problem went on beyond the civil war, and it ended just a few years ago, but that does not mean that this song lost its meaning.”
He pointed into the room. “I know in America you observe Memorial Day to remember your freedom fighters, your soldiers, and it is a good tradition to remember those who died for the freedom of others.”
A confirming murmur filled the room.
“It may not be a popular view,” he said after silence was restored again, “and some of you will not agree with what I have to say, but tonight I take the liberty to salute all of our freedom fighters, including those of the Irish Republican Army, who fought a good fight, who finished their course, and who have kept the faith.
“Despite their negative image in the world, the folks who fought with the Irish Republican Army were mostly ordinary people. They were no different in their ways than the peasants recruited as soldiers by George Washington as he went to fight the British Empire.
“They were neither fanatics nor terrorists, only honest people with all their shortcomings who continued to fight for the freedom of our countrymen in the Northern provinces of this island, our Ireland.
“Without their efforts, our Catholic brothers and sisters would not be able to enjoy the freedom they have today.”
He lifted his glass toward his audience that listened to him with fascination.
“So, I am left to sing their deeds and to praise them while I can, those boys of Barr na Sráide, who hunted for the wren.”
The room was still, not a word was spoken, and all eyes were on the man sitting in his chair as he put his glass to the floor. They watched as he closed his eyes, as he summoned his thoughts, and straightened his posture. Then, with a strong and clear voice, he began singing, and he sang of the boys of Barr na Sráide, who hunted for the wren.