Remembering Uncle Shamus

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Every March, St. Patrick calls to us from all across the East Coast. My family, be they near or far, gathers at my cousin’s house, the place the earlier generation of Kelly’s grew up. Every year is the same old thing, with the adults conversing and recalling memories of long ago.
“Hey, remember when that river swept me up?” my dad would proudly question his brothers. “It carried we down it until Michael pulled me out.”

“Who could forget!” my Uncle Mikey would call out. “You were hanging onto that tree for dear life!” A chorus of laughter followed, my beat faced father leading the chuckles.

Because this was mostly an adults’ holiday, St. Patrick’s day was not usually one of my favorite holidays. The most that we kids did was eat corn beef and cabbage, which always smelled funky to me. This year was different though, because it was the first year without our beloved Uncle Jimmy.

My Great Uncle Jimmy, my dad’s uncle, was one of the greatest family members I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He lived like a true Irishman. He owned his “Shillelagh”, which is an Irish walking stick, and he talked with an Irish accent. We sometimes wondered if Uncle Jimmy was actually from Ireland. He was also an excellent painter. My favorite thing about him, though, was the fact that he always wanted to be called Shamus, which was apparently the Gaelic version of Jimmy. He would always call my dad Shamus, for his name was Jim, and my dad would always greet him as Uncle Shamus. My uncle died of natural causes in November of the year 2010.

This year for St. Patrick’s day, my cousin, Amy, decided to try something different. She and my Aunt Ruth passed out a stack of papers to everyone. Each of these numerous stacks was as thick as a Harry Potter book. Upon leafing through the papers, I noticed that they contained lyrics to a bunch of Irish songs; some I knew and some I didn’t. Immediately after the papers were passed out, my cousin started up the music. I didn’t recognized the song, so I sat there in confusion until I heard a voice.

“Oh I love this one,” the voice shouted over the music, which was now as loud as a rock concert. “It’s on page 11!” Without any other thought in my mind, I quickly turned to that page and laughed to myself. The page contained not one, not two, not three, but four songs that all looked similar to each other. I sat there in confusion, until the song played. I waited impatiently for the right words, hoping I was on the right page and had the right song. Finally I found it and sang along with the chorus, along with everyone else.

As the chorus sounded, everyone sang along as best they could by yelling out, “Oh that Clancy! Oh that Clancy,” followed by, “boom, boom, boom, boom,” until we were all sick of it. Despite that repeated word annoying the heck out of us, we were all having a wonderful time with the chorus, but when the verses sounded, the audience started mumbling quietly to themselves. The song ended just as soon as it begun, and we were all complaining and telling my cousin to play the song again. Amy wouldn’t have any of it though, and played another song.

“This next one’s on page six, ‘Molly Malone,’” she shouted out to the crowd. I quickly thumbed to the page and looked around. In a room where only five of the 20 people are children, and it being St. Patrick’s day, I wasn’t surprised to see some of my family drinking. My own father, in fact, was drinking a little, but this was ridiculous. The adults that weren’t driving tonight, which was only a few of them, were slurring their words a little. I prepared for the next song, and heard only a loud mumbling of voices, mostly from the adults. I closed my eyes for a second, trying to fathom the outcome of this situation, when I felt a shoulder drive itself into my shoulder. The adults were all swaying like a wave in time with the music, all the while muttering and yelling at the same time. I looked over at the rest of the kids, and we all laughed and joined in the merriment.

The night seemed to disappear before my very eyes. We sang a multitude of songs, from “McNamara’s Band”, which was the only song I knew from that list, to “Irish Lullaby”, which sent some of the family into a hibernation only to be awakened by a shove. Finally we were all ready to retire.

“Not yet,” Amy shouted out to the crowd of people before her, “one last song, on page 14.” We all groaned and moaned like ghosts until we saw the song. “Danny Boy.” As soon as we saw those words, we sat back down and got ready to sing our hearts out. This song was special to all of us because we had sung it at Uncle Shamus’s funeral. The music began to play, and we all sang our hearts out. Some of the adults, my dad included, even got a little teary eyed. That song, that one little song, made our night. I don’t think any of us could have forgotten that wonderful day, not without being disrespectful to our beloved Uncle Shamus.





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