Random memories related to my Irishness. The story goes that my mother was reading a novel about Irish history when she was pregnant with me, and found the name Rory, and that's why I have this name. I like that story better than, say, being named after Rory Calhoun, which is what I've heard all my life from contemporaries, since no one else of my generation had my name in this country except a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. The priest at St. Mary's in Delaware, Ohio, where I was to be baptized was taken aback that I'd be named Rory since it was the name of a pagan High King of Ireland and not of one of the (many) saints from the Auld Sod, so the legend continues that on my baptismal certificate I was named (Rory) Patrick Cooney, just like that, with the parentheses quarantining any pagan influences from my by-the-grace-of-God Christian name.
Since I started working in Barrington, I've met more people, mostly kids, named Rory than I have known in the rest of my life. The son of the woman who was my colleague and who connected me with St. Anne's is named Rory, and there have been half a dozen or so through the school since I've been there. It was mildly traumatic for me to have such an unusual name as a child. Now, there are Rorys and Aidans and Declans and Brigids, Maires, and Roisins everywhere you look.
I've been to Ireland twice in my lifetime. Once, in about 1985 or so, Gary Daigle and I did institutes on reconciliation with a team from the North American Forum on the Catechumenate in London, at Strawberry Hill, and in Ireland, at All Saints College in Dublin. We took a few extra days in Ireland, and our wives joined us for a weekend in Galway. Since most of that trip was work, I don't remember all that much about it, though there were some nice moments, especially meeting Fr. Niall O'Leary and hearing him cheer through the choruses of "Canticle of the Turning," which was otherwise met with decidedly mixed reviews among folks whose associations with "Star of the County Down" were more from pubs and soccer games than church. Fair enough. Niall later became pastor of a parish in Malibu, where Gary went to be musician and liturgist for a couple of years.
The second trip was in October of 2000, when Terry and I, through the machinations of some acquaintances abroad, went to Ireland for the entire month, doing concerts and workshops in Carlow at St. Patrick's, at St. Munchin's in Limerick, and at a Redemptorist retreat house in Belfast. Along the way we spent a week at a lovely equestrian village in Wicklow, another in a thatched cottage near Limerick, in Murroe, and the last week or so in Belfast with the lovely Quinns. Brian and Catherine were members of the Irish liturgical ensemble called Solas, and an architect and biology professor respectively by trade. That was a lovely and unforgettable month.
Once since I've been to Chicago, Bill Fraher invited me to sit in with Jimmy Moore and John Williams and the "bize," along with the great choir at Old St. Patrick's, for the liturgy that begins the St. Patricks' Day activities in this city. From the church the celebration becomes the famous parade led by the Mayor and other celebrities, at which they dump the green dye into the Chicago river. (Frankly, it's pretty green all the time. The dye must make it a lighter green.) I recall that at this particular Mass the late Fr. Andrew Greeley was the homilist, and one of the bishops, at least, attended. Old Saint Patrick's is the mother church of the Irish community here in Chicago, and it is a beautiful structure, full of original Celtic designs and Irish stained-glass windows depicting some of the saints of Ireland. The church was beautifully renovated and restored, and is a gleaming jewel to God's glory and the memory of the immigrant Irish Catholics who helped to make this city and country great.
My grandfather, Jim Cooney, Sr., used to call me "pal o' my cradle days". I think he was still no closer to Ireland than 2 generations, but he had the irascibility of the ethnicity down pat. He was also hard-working and generous. My brother, T. Cooney, is much more of a hard-core St Paddy's day enthusiast than I. I can recall years when he and his buddies used to hire a limo to carry their beer-soaked bodies from bar to bar all day long and into the night. I never joined him, but I heartily approve of their foresight. T. Cooney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, which, until brother David sullied the family name by attending the University of Southern California (just kidding, bro), was the de rigueur recipient of family football fealty on autumn afternoons. T. Cooney reported, as an alumnus, that he knew he had been at Notre Dame too long when he started pouring milk down the side of his glass so that it didn't get a head on it.
We Irish are not known for our cuisine (remember the old joke: what's a seven-course Irish meal? A boiled potato and a six-pack.) At Trinity in Dublin when I worked there for the NA Forum we were subjected to a fish-and-cheese stew that defies rationality, though they did make a lovely brown bread, and the dairy products and marmalade should have songs written about them. I remember that, probably in the third or fourth grade, we read a story or novella in reading class about Ireland, and one of the extra credit projects was to make Irish soda bread. In those glory days, people actually cooked, so I used to see my mom and grandmother cook all the time. Mom was happy to let me try my hand at the soda bread. I can't remember whether anyone else liked it or not, but I made it several times a year for a number of years until my grandmother took over the baking of it. I think that my original recipe had caraway seeds in it (this might have been Jewish Irish soda bread), and they might have been edited out of the recipe in favor of more currants or raisins. Probably a good editorial choice.
Favorite Irish musicians: Well, our friends Gerry Aylward and Fergal and Breda King, of course, but Van Morrison and the Chieftains are my famed faves, among many great Irish musicians from U2 to Sinead O'Connor to Flogging Mollie and the Corrs; Makem and Clancy, Elvis Costello, Mary Black. Favorite book about Ireland: it would have been easy to say Angela's Ashes. I'm going with one I read on my first trip to London, probably around 1978 or so: Trinity, by Leon Uris. Favorite Irish movie: This was a tough one, though I guess I have to give myself to that wonderful little bit of magical realism that was Into the West, with Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin, though The Commitments is up there, along with Secret of Roan Inish and now Philomena. Favorite Irish whiskey: Jameson's, of course. Irishmen we can do without: Bill O'Reilly. Oh, and Michael Flatley.
A final PS: Mom now alleges the story related above about my name and the baptismal certificate goes with my brother Terry, who had to be baptized 'Terrence" because Terry wasn't a proper saint's name. This may be her memory failing, since she always liked him more anyway, or it may be, tragically, true. I like my version better. As the Irish say about their stories, if it isn't true, it oughta be. Happy St. Patrick's Day!