Saturday, 12 September 2015

Are ye here for the jazz?

Hail Queen of the Late Night Radio

Returning to the subject of songs that get stuck in one’s head – there are two very firmly lodged in mine since Sunday the 6th September. 

On that day I travelled to Monaghan Town to attend the Blessing of the Graves ceremony for the first time in nearly two decades.  On my approach I was startled to discover, several miles outside the town, that cars had been parked along the roadside.  A stream of walkers were trudging steadily forward as though towards Croke Park.   Too late to similarly abandon my car I resolved to pull in temporarily when I got closer to the graveyard and deposit my Lily in its pink ceramic pot onto the footpath – but as I got near I was waved vigorously onwards by the Gardai.  I eventually parked at quite a distance from my destination. I considered abandoning Lily as she was heavy - but instead I put her in a sturdy M&S carrier bag and entered the stream of humanity.  

Each time I put Lily down for a rest I was overtaken by scores of people. As I walked down the hill in the hot sunshine into the townland of Laturcan, where three sloping graveyards meet in a triangle, I was amazed by the crowds.  There were groups at almost every grave.  As I passed the Old Graveyard, which dates back to 1790, the hymn ‘Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star,’ began to crackle through a loudspeaker system.  I could see to my left, at the grotto in the St Joseph’s Calvary Graveyard (which dates to 1925) a makeshift altar and an assembly of priests surrounding the bishop. 
My destination was the New Graveyard.  I finally got into line beside my people by the second refrain.

O gentle, chaste, and spotless Maid,
We sinners make our prayers through thee;
Remind thy Son that He has paid
The price of our iniquity.

Virgin most pure, Star of the sea,
Pray for the sinner, pray for me.

On my last visit, a mound still betrayed my mother’s recent interment. Today the surface was flat.  One simple wreath lay on fresh dark compost that had been perfectly groomed by her sons.
Lily, who had begun life in a small plastic pot by my mother’s bedside, looked cheerful and uncompromising in her new situation as the final refrain of the hymn rang out.

And while to Him Who reigns above
In Godhead one, in Persons three,
The Source of life, of grace, of love,
Homage we pay on bended knee:

Do thou, bright Queen, O star of the sea,
Pray for thy children, pray for me

 A steady stream of people continued to enter each graveyard, dressed in Sunday finery, ferrying children, carrying stools for their elders, coats over their arms and redundant umbrellas. 

No-one spoke much as the readings were read. More hymns were sung.  The rosary ensued. Priests and ministers of the Eucharist fanned out, trudging up and down the paths, trying to reach into every grave with a spray of holy water as families blessed themselves.

And then, quite suddenly, it was over. 
The masses began to surge again, back towards the town, back to abandoned cars, calling out to each other, spotting old forgotten friends, shaking hands.

You can’t be in Monaghan today and not go to the Harvest Blues festival,’ I was told.
I got carried along by the tide through Old Cross Square. 

As we strolled up Dublin Street the mourners seemed either to vanish or change focus - to morph somehow into hard core blues aficionados.  
We stepped into the darkness of a pub. 

And there she was. Clara Rose, the Queen of the Late Night Radio. She was in full voice, with her mammy singing backing vocals, belting out the Sam Cooke song – ‘Bring it On Home to Me’.

I found myself seated on a window seat with a great view, delightedly clutching a pint, when a northern man beside me leaned in and said ‘Are ye here for the jazz?.

 ‘No’, I said, ‘for the Blessing of the Graves’.
‘Och aye’, he said nodding sagely.

The rest of his response was drowned by their roof raising finale ...
One more thing
I tried to treat you right
But you stayed out, stayed out at night
But I forgive you, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me, yeah (yeah) yeah (yeah) yeah (yeah)
Yeah (yeah) yeah (yeah)...

Have a listen to Clara Rose and Lizy here