A Gathering Of The Clan
A Gathering Of The Clan
It was a balmy Saturday in late August. We were gathered at the sparkling new venue of the Buffalo River Works on Ganson Street, along the banks of the Buffalo River. You couldn’t really miss the exterior signpost for the place. Six towering cylindrical cylinders, that had once held grain, were now painted a deep. Royal, blue with the insignia of Molson’s Ale along their crest.
Having never before visited the place, we were apprehensive at what we would find. It was the annual gathering of Buffalo’s Clan Na Gael. Dance, music, Irish themed memorabilia, genealogy and the friendship of people we had known for sixty years lay inside.
The building, composed of outsized, iron structural beams, hardwood floors and lacelike ironwork had created a three story, open venue that looked like the French Quarter of New Orleans on steroids. Only the famous “Gilley’s Saloon,” of Texas fame, could compare with the airy and spacious interior.
Two inside stages, one atop winter ice rink, and the other atop an indoor roller rink, provided continuous music, dance and cultural stimulation to an appreciative audience.
From the interior Guinness stage, fifes, fiddles and guitars played a lilting and haunting rhythm of a land and a people from long ago and now far away. The outer Harp stage was an exposition of more modern Irish music, redolent of the pulsating, foot-stomping rhythm of Appalachia. It was an Irish Hootenanny that drew cheers from an appreciative throng.
There were upwards of 5,000 sons and daughters of Eire present on this balmy August afternoon. The same number had been here last night. An equal number was expected on Sunday. The festival had exceeded anyone expectations and was a raging success.
In the Mall area of the venue, Kevin O’Brien and Donna Shine manned the Irish Genealogy Booth. Mary Heneghan managed her chorus of dancers, The Tara Shopppe site and a dozen other activities in a maestro’s organizational performance. Hundred of gracious volunteers made the festival run as smoothly and a Swiss watch.
There was abundant seating in the music venues and along the three levels of the riverside bars. Many hundreds lolled in the shade and watched the flotillas of boats, kayakers, and other river craft drift by on the Buffalo River. A last contingent watched the Buffalo Bills stomp all over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a small bar on the second level of the facility.
We sampled and enjoyed the Irish coffee and potato soup. Others ate heartily, from an eclectic menu, as they washed their fare down with Guiness, Jameson’s and a host of other potables.
Five generations of my own family had lived out their lives along this river. The area was especially poignant to me. I could picture in my mind’s eye, great uncles as ferrymen, scoopers, saloon owners and a dozen other occupations, that the Irish had claimed as their own, along the shores of the Buffalo River in this new land.
We sat and talked with Trish and John Gloss, friends since childhood, and caught up with the news of family and friends. The Farrell's, The Rileys, The Shanahans, the Fays, The Smiths and a dozen other friends I had known since childhood, stopped by and shared their greetings. With most we had what we like to call a “bookmark” relationship. Like a favored old book, you read it until you put the book down. You mark your place and then, even after many years, you pick up the book and start again from the bookmark, like your interaction had never been interrupted. It was a comfortable feeling to be among those many whose families you had known for several generations. We were an interrelated gathering of Buffalo’s Clan Na Gael. And though there were many here from all of Eire’s 32 counties, most of us, in the Buffalo area, had come here from Cork, Clair and Kerry. We had been near relations for many hundreds of years and knew that we were amongst our own.
Small children gamboled about as their parents talked with friends, listened to the music and sang songs they had sung since childhood. The young, Irish step dancers were animated and colorful as they performed before family and friends. It was truly a village setting, similar to those in rural Eire that we had seen and visited. We were all amongst our own in this grand new open facility on the Buffalo River. And the ghost of many thousand of our own were all around us enjoying the lilting rhythm of the music that they had brought with them from the misty Isle of Eire.
After many hours of this pleasant companionship, we made our way back to our car and home. It had been a day spent with old friends, the music of our own and the memory of who we are and from whence we had come. This lilting Irish Brigadoon would soon disappear and not reemerge until the following year. God willing, we will meet everyone here again next year.
May the roads rise up to meet you all.
Joseph Xavier Martin