“And I ask you, friend
What’s a fella to do
’cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
So I took her hand
And I gave her a twirl
And I lost my heart to a Galway girl”
–Steve Earle, “Galway Girl”
A hundred years ago today, a Galway girl gave a Dublin boy a handjob on Dollymount Strand. It was their first date, and the grateful boy later turned the day into a secular feast by setting Ulysses on the 16th of June, 1904. It’s a fine thing to celebrate: carnal delight, first love, and a gift that augured a long and loving marriage. His Nora Barnacle turned out to be as loyal as her name, and I have extra fondness for a man whose love and art were real enough to hold as his muse an earthy wife instead of a goddess. (Centenary bonus: I just collected–a few months after it was delivered to a friend’s house–a biography of that Galway girl sent by a reader of this site. Thank you!)
Three years ago today, the bodacious Caitriona married Dan De Luce. He’s stoic about celebrating the day with his bridesmaid in New York, where he’s looking for a new gig, but he misses his wife–and her five-month pregnancy bump–back in Dublin.
And June 16th, 1972, on the feast of the Dollymount handjob, my 22-year-old mother gave birth to me in a bush hospital in Zambia. Gave birth. That’s some birthday gift, when you think about it. She was thousands of miles from home, with little medical help, and it was a hard and frightening time for her. Today I’m thinking about how brave she was, and wishing I could go back in time to tell her it would turn out fine.