Maybe It’s In the Genes
Submitted by Áine C. McCormack
“This has been so much fun…we really should do it again! You know, we have a great place for the week in Tipperary…what about this Friday at the Old Parochial House?”
As soon as the words left my father’s lips, they filled me with anxiety. I quickly looked around the room at the faces of my Irish relatives hoping I was the only one who had heard him. The invitation could easily have been lost in the pleasant din of laughter and conversation that filled the house.
No such luck. A hush fell over the room and a chorus of enthusiastic remarks swirled about. I heard someone say, “Ah, Jim, that would be lovely!” And another, “We wouldn’t miss it, that’s grand!” And even, “Maybe we ought to hire a mini-bus?” Oh dear. It sounded to me like five Americans on vacation in Ireland were about to do some entertaining.
The “this” to which my father referred was a party at the home of our relatives in Ballyedmond, County Laois. Our hosts, Jimmy and Helen McCormack, live in a new house near the cottage where my great-grandfather, Andrew, was born. Andrew emigrated in 1890 and settled in Minnesota. The party was a family reunion of sorts, although it was the first time I had met most of the relatives. There were three generations of McCormacks present – descendants of the McCormack brother who stayed in Ballyedmond. My father and mother, aunt, sister, and I represented the American branch of the family. The relatives called us the Yanks (which made me feel a bit like John Wayne in The Quiet Man).
The evening in Ballyedmond had all the markings of a great party. An impressive spread of roast turkey, dressing, lasagna, salads, potatoes, and more was served followed by an array of delicious desserts. Beverages were plentiful, the fire was toasty, and the company was fabulous. The McCormacks welcomed us into the family with the warmth and hospitality for which the Irish are famous.
So why the nerves and anxiety? After all, reciprocating was the polite thing to do, and why wouldn’t I want to spend another evening with a houseful of McCormacks? The answer was simple: I thought we might embarrass ourselves by throwing a dud of a party in the land where hospitality is king and around every corner is another great story-teller, musician, or wit. Everyone knows the best bars all over the world are the Irish pubs. The Irish (at least most of the ones I have met in over twenty years of visiting Ireland) have perfected the art of having a good time and ensuring everyone else is having a good time. Some things are best left to the experts.
The Day of the Party
When Friday morning arrived, I was amazed by how calm my father appeared. Cooking a meal for twenty-five people in an unfamiliar fan oven using metric measurements didn’t seem to be a problem for Jim McCormack. And what about the dozen other things I saw as obstacles to our party’s success (like a fork shortage or who would start the fire)? According to my father, these things would work themselves out. He was confident, but I thought oblivious to the near-mythic standard of entertaining we were up against. When I asked him if he was nervous, he rolled his eyes, shook his head, and said I was nuts. He told me to look around and tell him how it would even be possible to throw a bad party at the Old Parochial House.
The Old Parochial House! I had completely overlooked the one thing that was sure to strengthen our entertaining credibility. The Old Parochial House in Ballingarry, County Tipperary is the former residence of the local parish priest built in 1886 and recently restored. It is now available as a self-catering holiday home. The Old Parochial House is a stunning property with a gorgeous staircase, stained glass windows, high ceilings, and marble fireplaces. With a piano in the drawing room and a formal dining room, the house simply begged for a party.
After the Big Gig
When the party was over and the mini-bus pulled away, I felt a bit foolish. I should have trusted my father. The dinner he prepared was outstanding, complete with potatoes he dug from Jimmy’s garden and a lovely roast, and the party was a success. I am fairly certain my father inherited the Irish hospitality gene. It didn’t matter if they were guests or hosts, our Irish relatives were simply a delight to be around. Although, thankfully, our party wasn’t the failure I feared, I am sure the relatives found a thing or two about the Yanks to laugh about after we went home. I also suspect they enjoyed the visit almost as much as we did.