Tobi Taylor's Journal

News > Sunday, March-18-2007

The Lass of Aughrim

In January, I traveled to Ireland to visit a friend from Tucson who'd emigrated there a few years ago. She understands that, as an anthropologist, I’d prefer to live in the community I visit instead of making the rounds of various tourist attractions and crossing them off of someone else’s “must see” list. She knows, too, that I like to read, or re-read, a book about the area in which I’m staying, and that she’ll have to hear about it whether she likes it or not.


While packing, I’d thrown several books into my Land's End bag, and had finished two of them before I left LAX (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Sight Hound). But the book I was saving until just the right moment was Dubliners, more of which below.


Near the end of my stay, my friend and I decided to spend a day in Dublin, and round it off with a lovely lunch at Avoca Cafe, in Suffolk Street. We took the train from Newry, Northern Ireland, to Connally Station and went for a leisurely, if chilly, walk through Temple Bar, across the River Liffey (which confirmed for me the aptness of Brendan Behan's remark that "Somebody once said that 'Joyce has made this river the Ganges of the literary world,' but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary"), and towards the Writers Museum in Parnell Square.


It was in the Writers Museum's bookshop that I experienced the first part of my trip’s “perfect moment” (a tip of the cap to Spalding Gray here). A volume of Irish poet Paul Muldoon’s work somehow fell into my hands, and I quickly found a favorite poem of his, “The Lass of Aughrim”:


On a tributary of the Amazon
an Indian boy
steps out of the forest
and strikes up on a flute.

Imagine my delight
when we cut the outboard motor
and I recognize the strains
of The Lass of Aughrim.

”He hopes,” Jesus explains,
”to charm
fish from the water

on what was the tibia
of a priest
from a long-abandoned Mission."


Gleefully, I handed it to my friend (who is not a poetry person), and told her that reading this poem always makes me think of her. "I don't get it," she said, even after I'd enumerated, as eloquently as I could, the various ways that the poem seemed to intersect with her life, and mine. Then she led me out of the museum and around the corner to the IRA bookshop. There, the selection was more to her liking and I spent my time looking at all of the Che Guevara Lynch memorabilia (he's Irish! who knew?)


On my last night in Ireland, I was upstairs reading just before dinner. I'd read a little bit of Dubliners each day, so I had only one story, my favorite, remaining. I was twenty when I first read "The Dead," during a particularly bad summer when I was recovering from a love affair. I wondered, turning the pages two decades later, whether I would find it as compelling as I had then.


My friend gave me the fifteen-minute warning for dinner just as Gretta was standing on the stairs, listening to Bartell D’Arcy singing despite his cold. A few paragraphs later, she spoke to him:


"Mr. D'Arcy," she said, "what is the name of that song you were singing?"


 "It's called The Lass of Aughrim," said Mr. D'Arcy, "but I couldn't remember it properly. Why? Do you know it?"


"The Lass of Aughrim," she repeated. "I couldn't think of the name."


Neither could I, until then. “The Lass of Aughrim.” I’d just had my perfect moment.


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