THE LAST DAY. SUNDAY
Early Sunday morning, the choir checked out of the Westin Hotel and prepared to sing at the 12 noon Mass at Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston. There’s an old expression – save the best ’til last and surely this Mass would prove to be the perfect ending to a wonderful journey.
Billy Higgins’ Irish eyes were really smiling as the Gatie began to fill up; another full house in this most beautiful shrine to the history of the Irish people in Boston. At one time in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston, there were more priests and nuns from this parish than any other parish in the Archdiocese. The Irish built this church. The Irish had arrived and a new chapter in Irish-American history began with the construction of this sacred edifice.
By this time, word had gotten out to the highest ranks of the Church in Boston and Bishop Hennessey, a newly appointed auxiliary Bishop of Boston and son of South Boston would be presiding at this Mass along with Father Casey, the Pastor and a well-known singing priest. The Choir had made its mark and after Mass, Bishop Hennessey told Tracey to call him directly, next time they came to Boston and he would make sure more churches would have the honor of their presence.
After the Mass, as they had done at every other Mass, the choir moved to the center of the altar and serenaded the enthusiastic flock who stayed in their seats to the very end. Even Bishop Hennessey came out and sat in the pews with the congregation to enjoy the final performance. Suddenly, the sound of Billy Higgins’ voice announced that there was a very good singer in the audience, Father Casey and invited him to sing with them. Casey was tremendous. He sang the Fields of Athenry, a song well known and a favorite of the Choir. Everything blended together, unrehearsed. It was the first time Fr. Casey ever had a choir accompanying him. Fr. Casey has a beautiful voice and the crowd erupted into a standing ovation. Now, we were truly a part of the Holy Trinity family too.
The Holy Trinity Choir members are good people of deep Catholic faith. At the end of every after-Mass songfest they would extend their hands outward to all those in attendance to impart an Irish Blessing to us and ask us, if willing, to do the same. For me, and others like me, it was not just a blessing.
It was a connection.
A connection to our own Irishness; a connection to our parents and grandparents who came to this country and bestowed upon us this deep religious faith in God and our universal church.
It was also a connection to our human frailty, the knowledge that this life on earth is not forever and faith and belief is critical to our happiness and our ability to give and receive love and to forgive and seek forgiveness.
I am sure that the people of Ireland have not heard the last of this great choir. Those who came to Boston on this trip were apprehensive about not having a full choir. They more than took up the slack.
They rose to the occasion and the people rose up to cheer them and to thank them for coming to our great Irish city at every stop along the way including Fenway Park, home of our beloved Boston Red Sox baseball team, whose fans are all over the world and make up what has become known as Red Sox Nation.
Limerick is now home to the latest members of Red Sox Nation. And if there was ever to be a grand highlight of a trip to America, it had to be the choir’s presence before a jam packed Fenway Park, America’s most historic professional ball park.
And right there on the field for the greatest performance of their lives was the Holy Trinity Abbey Choir, of Adare, County Limerick, Ireland.
They were ready, as we say, to belt it out – The Star Spangled Banner – our national anthem.
And when they were done, the crowd of close to 40,000 went wild. I don’t think any American choir could have done a better job of singing a very difficult song for those who didn’t grow up singing it. But the Irish guests of the Boston Red Sox were ready. They had practiced long and hard to be sure they had it right. They did. Superb. No wonder they are Ireland’s best. They treated our anthem as if it were their own and gave it a flawless performance.
Everywhere they went, in and around Fenway Park, the fans would give them the high five sign and utter words like “awesome” and “great” and “fantastic.”
I was present at the Higgins home when they sang the National Anthem and I knew then and there that the Fenway Faithful would go berserk.
After all, the Irish-American Rock Band, Dropkick Murphy’s of Boston is the official musical ambassador of Red Sox Nation. There’s no way Dropkick Murphy could have done a better job and I don’t think the Irish Tenors would have gotten such a sustained ovation. We expect certain things from the Irish Tenors. None expected quite such a performance from Ireland’s elite choir.
Just before leaving Sunday afternoon for the return flight to Shannon, the Choir gathered for a last meal at the Higgins home. This time there was a special treat – an American favorite – the Baked Potato. Then, it was on to Logan where they again received that special V.I.P. treatment. Checking in was snap.
And now a final surprise. Just before they went into the Security area, where family and friends are not allowed, the choir gathered in a circle around Billy, his daughters Andrew and Denise and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. They sang a final song and for Billy Higgins, he felt like he was really family too.
“I’ll be flying to Ireland in October fo r a special Mass at Holy Family Parish in Southill and presenting a check to the Southill Junior School. My friends and supporters here in Boston and over there have been doing this since 1985. All the proceeds from the Masses here in Boston were split equally to support not just the students in Southill but also kids in our Boston parishes. This was the choir’s first time in America, except for Tracey. It was their first travel outside of Ireland. Adare is a very tourist centered village with thatched cottages. I feel so very close to every member of the choir. They have all invited me to stay at their homes on future visits to Limerick. But, I’m going to stay with the Fitzgeralds and the Boylans as I have always done so as not to appear to be playing favorites. I get a great feeling knowing that we made a lot of people happy. The original children who came to Boston in 1985 are mostly married with kids of their own. When I’m in Limerick, I meet the young kids and when I ask them their names, they are surprised when I recite the name of their mother and/or father. It brings a smile to their face and bonds us together as we look to the future. It keeps the chain unbroken, that special connection between Southill and Southie. Some people tell me that things have changed in Ireland. The country is a rich country now and they don’t need our support. That’s true but there are still kids in Southill who need this helping hand. People like myself, the choir and others in Limerick will continue to work to make sure the kids of Southill are able to take advantage of every educational opportunity to make their mark in Irish society. This tour also brought many people back into the churches in our own Archdiocese. They too benefited financially from this across the ocean connection. This was a win – win situation for everyone. I’m just a small link in a chain. With the support of those who attended the Masses and my friends and neighbors and the good people of Boston and Limerick, this special connection will continue to flourish in the future,” said Billy.
Like I said at the beginning, whoever heard of Limerick in Boston? Well that was then and this is now. Limerick, thank you. You’ve made an incredible mark on our great city and our unique Irish history. We can only imagine how powerful is the sound of all the voices and instruments of the Holy Trinity Choir. Each and every member of your powerful economic force in the world today. They are the best at what they do. Highly educated, very sophisticated, very interested in our American way of life. And, surprisingly, especially to me, they even speak – and sing – the Gaelic.
Special thanks to Don Ogden and Don Dunham, owners of Yankee Bus Company of south Boston and to Dave who coordinated all the bus transportation needs for the choir throughout their stay.
Also, to Denise of the Starwood Corporation, owners of the Westin Hotel who made our Irish visitors feel so welcome in Boston.
And finally to Senator Jack Hart and Rep. Paul Kujawski. It was Rep. Kujawski who made it possible for the choir to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park
CONTRIBUTIONS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME
If you would like to make a contribution to the Southill Children’s Fund you can do so by sending your donation c/o Billy Higgins, 47 Farragut Road, South Boston, MA 02127
You may also make contributions through our website, click here