One of my personal highlights from the week that was, was the dinner which was held on Friday night at the home of Fr. Denis. The evening began at our home where our community, our guests, members of the parish, and the Most Rev. Denis Brennan (our local bishop) gathered for a house blessing. Bishop Denis began the brief service by asking God to bless the house and then Mrs. Calcutt gave a short reading. Bishop Denis also invoked the patronage of St. Brigid and blessed the house with holy water. One of the lines in the blessing which struck me the most was when the bishop asked God to bless “the family which occupies it [the house].” We always talk about the Notre Dame family, and the Folk Choir family, but here we are as the Teach Bhride family. We live, we eat, we pray, we argue, we laugh, and we love together, just as any family does. We are not a “traditional” family, but we are a family none the less and it was great to hear those words used by the bishop. The blessing was followed by the obligatory pictures outside with everyone who was in attendance.
Following the blessing we all traveled down the road to Fr. Denis’ house where we were joined by some other members of the parish, a few local priests, and representatives of the parish Folk group. Fr. Denis had gone to great lengths to ensure that the Americans and the Irish were mixed in together, even going so far as to make name plates and assign seats for the dinner. Carolyn and I were seated with Fr. Aodhan, one of the priests assigned to the downtown parishes and Fr. John-Paul, the director of catechetics for the diocese. Fr. John-Paul was the one who guided us on our trip up to Dublin to visit the ND kids. Dinner was an amazing event, with a salad, soup, three different options for the main course, tons of sides, and some great dessert to finish it off. Most of the food was also homemade by Fr. Denis and his staff chef Carolyn [not our Carolyn, their Carolyn]. The food was amazing and the wine flowed freely, usually poured by one priest or another who was up making the rounds with the bottles. The conversation was great as well, Fr. Aodhan is a chaplain for one of the secondary schools in Wexford and so we talked about his work there and how we might become involved in those places. Mid-way through the meal three more folks joined us, friends from Notre Dame who are in the London program this fall and decided to spend the last weekend of their fall break in Wexford. After quick reunions they settled in for their dinner, which they claimed was the best food they had eaten since arriving in the Isles last month.
Dinner was followed by a few speeches, first from Fr. Denis, as the official welcome to us and to all of the Americans who were over visiting. He was followed by Bishop Denis, a man who every time he speaks I am enthralled by what he says. Requests have been made for hard copies of his homilies, which we hope to receive at some point this year. Then it was time for the Americans to be put on the spot. Mrs. Calcutt got up and gave a brief word of thanks on behalf of the corporation and everyone backing this project, touching on some of the difficulties in getting this off the ground but reveling in now seeing the great works coming out of it. Madam House Director followed with a few words of thanks for all of the support we have received from both sides of the pond in the last few months. It was amazing to be sitting in a room with people who we have known for years and people we have just met, all of whom are dedicated to seeing this project work. We’ve received so much support from the people back in the States, but we’ve also received so much support from the pastoral staff and parishioners of this, our new home.
With dinner and the speeches done, the three of us and the Folk group members had to run off to the parish for our weekly rehearsal, which was larger than normal due to the large liturgy that would happen the next night. Not only were we being commissioned by the Bishop, but the Folk group was celebrating 30 years of ministry in the parish, and we were dedicating two new stained glass windows which had been made for the church. The rehearsal was great, but back at Fr. Denis’ the party had gone on without us. By the time we returned the party had moved into the sitting room where a “session” or sing-along was in full swing. There were guitars, a few whistles, a mandolin, even an accordion, as well as the combined voices of the Irish hosts and the American guests. We sat in that room for hours, going back and forth from genre to genre. There were plenty of American favorites from John Denver, Bob Dylan, and others. Fr. Denis whipped out a few of his classics, including the rebel songs which talk about the Wexford rebellion of 1798. We even had a rousing rendition of “How Much is that Doggy in the Window.”
By the end of the night we all were pretty tired and it was time to head off to bed. The session had capped off a great day for everyone. We introduced our American friends to the ways of the Irish, we had a lot of singing, and eating, and drinking. It was a night filled with good craic, the Wexford term for having a great time. These two groups of people whom we have come to love were finally joining together and experiencing each other as we experience them. For us, this week was when we officially stopped being visitors and started being people who live here and work here. We hosted people, we showed them around the town which we now call home, we took people to our favorite pub and to our favorite coffee houses. And in many ways that night of good craic in Fr. Denis’ sitting room solidified the relationship between the Americans of Teach Bhride and the Irish of Teach Bhride. We all know each other now, everyone has talked face to face, we can have a better understanding of where everyone is coming from in this project. And I think because of that we have made this project all the stronger for the future. We are no longer a loose group of people who are trying to make something work, we are two unified groups on either side of the Atlantic who know that this project is worth the effort and will yield amazing fruit in the years ahead.