Finding my way home on St. Patrick’s Day

By Roy Lincoln Karp
Special to the Reporter

Our closest friends and family have gathered for an after party in the Honey Fitz room at Doyle’s. I am still in my rented tuxedo and Courtney is wearing her wedding dress, sneakers, and a Red Sox cap and veil her bridesmaids made for her bachelorette party.

We walk into the front room to grab some beers and the regulars give us a rousing cheer. The bartender hands us two pints, but declines our cash. He points to a woman a few seats down the bar who smiles as she lifts up her glass and says, “Love the hat, honey. Cheers!”

That was Oct. 2, 2004, and the Sox had won both games of a double header on the last day of the season. Later that month, they broke the “Curse of the Bambino,” winning their first World Series title in 86 years. One of my groomsmen, my old college friend Hugh Mannering, asked me how I enjoyed the four short weeks when our wedding day was the happiest day of Courtney’s life.

In those honeymoon years between the wedding and parenthood, Doyle’s was our locale. When we debated moving to a place down the street, we wrote “Closer to Doyle’s” at the top of the “pros” column. We loved stopping in on summer evenings to catch a few innings and chat with neighbors while surrounded by historic murals and political memorabilia.

We always made a point to go there on Election Night and see all the local pols make their appearances. On the night of the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in 2010, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews did their MSNBC broadcasts live from the bar and we became part of the “local color.”

These were the years when Courtney was working at the State House, so we always went to Doyle’s to celebrate Evacuation Day. We would walk down the street at 9:30 a.m. and grab the coveted seats at the main bar before the grandfathers in their thick Irish sweaters had finished their bangers and black pudding and before the line of college kids started to snake around the block.

When the band started up, I shamelessly requested all the songs with lyrics I had memorized. During my freshman year in college, Hugh (of the Irish wit) had burned some Irish music onto CDs for me. This was my homework. We had made plans to backpack through Ireland that summer and he wanted me to prepare for sing-a-longs in the pubs.

Though not Irish myself, something in the music spoke to me. I especially loved Christy Moore’s political ballads and the rousing tales of Irish rebellion and solidarity by the Wolfe Tones. Over the years, Courtney and I sought out live Irish music and Brian O’Donovan’s “Celtic Sojourn” events became the soundtrack of our Saturday afternoons.

Now that we’re parents, we don’t get over to Doyle’s that often, and we certainly don’t sidle up to the bar at 9:30 in the morning on St. Patrick’s Day. But we’ve kept up other traditions. Every March 17, we make Irish soda bread, colcannon, and, of course, corned beef, which lies at the culinary crossroads of our Irish and Jewish cultures. Then I play those CDs that Hugh made for me 25 years ago.

Last December, our three-year-old daughter, Lucy, really got into Irish Christmas music. We were well into January before we convinced her that there were other kinds of Irish music. Now she enjoys the Makem & Spain Brothers.

On most afternoons, we have a dance party. I ask her what kind of music we should play, and she shouts back, “Irish music!” Because of her gross motor delays, I still hold her hands while her hips sway to the sounds of fiddles, flutes, and harps.

Then a slow ballad comes on. It’s titled “Slan Abhaile,” a traditional Irish farewell meaning “safe home.” I pick up Lucy and we “ballroom dance” while Courtney looks on. Lucy laughs as I twirl her around the living room. I smile back at her and think to myself, I have found my way safely home.