“Just Tinkin'” A Celtic Music Blog By Jim O’Connor of Boston Blackthorne- A Lament for Boston

A Lament for Boston     Mist Covered Mountains MP3 C

In all of our lives there are just a few events that are imbedded in our memories to the point where most of us can say “I know exactly where I was when I heard that news.”

Those of us of a certain age can remember where we were when we heard the news that President Kennedy was shot. I was in 4th grade and I can remember leaving Miss Dienlien's class with my friends and standing on the corner and contemplating what it all meant in our 9 year old minds. I can see my mother in the living room with tears in her eyes ironing clothes for her husband and 6 children.  I remembered President Kennedy as the man in the huge campaign poster that took up most of our picture window during election season.

On September 11, 2001 I was working at home in the basement when my 11 year old son who was home sick from school called down, “Dad you better come up and see what's on the TV.” Because of my background as a grief counselor I ended up leaving Boston at 3am the next morning and driving to New York, abandoning my car near a police blockade and taking the train to Manhattan. I remember emerging from Grand Central Station into a world that looked so much different, “changed utterly” as the poet said, from the day before.

I learned a lot about terror and loss in the coming weeks. I spoke with dozens of people who needed to tell someone about their escape from that horror. Many trudged for hours covered in dust across the Brooklyn Bridge or uptown towards home, some waited frantically on the docks to be rescued by a passing ferry or tugboat. A few intrepid souls ventured into the subway and were rewarded by the last arrival of the No. 1 which whisked them uptown where minutes later they miraculously emerged from the tunnel and into the sun. My mind holds a virtual cyclorama of escape from every angle of lower Manhattan on that day.

I heard so many stories of loss, for no matter what town you came from in that tri-state area you surely lost a friend. I wrote a song about the experience, September 12, 2001 which was featured on the podcast on the 10 anniversary of the day.  Of all the stories  I heard in those weeks, this one now strikes me as one of the saddest.  A young woman who worked in lower Manhattan belonged to an after-work darts league at a local pub. The league was a great way to meet new friends.  Several relationships and even a couple of marriages grew out of those dart games over the years. This woman struck up a friendship with a young man and this led to a dinner out on the town. They had a nice time together and after a goodnight hug and exchange of phone numbers she thought on the subway ride home how nice it would be to get together again. The night was September 10, 2001. In speaking with her weeks after 9-11 she was still nearly inconsolable and almost embarrased by her reaction. “It seems silly to be so upset by this, I hardly knew him…but I think I would have.”  Like the song says, grief is like the ripples from a stone dropped into still waters.

I am thinking of all of this because recently in the Boston area, another date, April 15, 2013 is now emblazoned in our memories. On that afternoon I received a call from my brother who is part of the FBI counter-terrorism group- “turn on your TV.” I had returned that morning from watching the marathon runners pass the end of our street. We used to bring our kids down and marvel at the elite athletes from Kenya as they ran in a close group of a dozen or so, at that point in the race banded together in an amazing fluid circle about the size of a kitchen table.

And so now in Boston we experience yet  another senseless act of violence and we pass into the familiar stages of dealing with it as a community. As Americans we seem most comfortable moving past sadness into the recovery phase, helped on by inspiring stories of sacrifice and heroism. In Boston this spring, there are many of these.

I think the Irish are much more comfortable residing for awhile with the sadness and loss. After all, more than 100 years after the Famine, we are still building monuments to it. My brother- in- law and his friends recently petitioned and had a statue erected in Northampton Mass. to honor Halligan and Dailey, 2 men hung (incorrectly, it seems) for horse thieving more than 150 years ago!  I remember stories of my grandmother talking on the phone with a neighbor whose husband was gravely ill.  “Now, now, don't you fret, he'll be up and about before you know it, good as new.”  Then she hung up the phone and said to my grandfather, “Where do you think Mr. Dunn will be waked,  Hobart's or John B. Shea's?”

Along with the Irish familiarity with mourning comes of course a strong musical tradition. It is no coincidence that the funeral of nearly every firefighter or police officer is accompanied by the mournful yet stirring stains of the Celtic pipes, usually the Scottish bagpipes.  One hundred and fifty years ago when a son or daughter was emigrating from Ireland to England, Australia or America, families held an “American Wake” usually not complete without tunes and ballads to see them off.  And a whole genre of fiddle tunes, the Laments,  pay homage to those who have passed on.

The tune that accompanies this blog is an old Scottish lament called “Mist Covered Mountains of Home.”  It was taught to me by Peter McAvoy from our band Boston Blackthorne who plays the fiddle on this rendition. The tune is perhaps best know for being played at President Kennedy's funeral.   At times like this when as in the words of Yeats, “The world's more full of weeping than you can understand,” we trust that the beauty of the lament brings comfort and makes us  just a bit less “anxious in our sleep.” (from The Stolen Child by W.B. Yeats)  Like all of our community we thank the brave and selfless first responders and bystanders for their service and remember those who died and those who continue to suffer from this act of madness.


“Just Tinkin'” A Celtic Music Blog By Jim O’Connor of Boston Blackthorne- A Lament for Boston — 3 Comments

  1. Very touching story and a beautiful rendition of this tune. Music helps to heal the soul.