September 11, when Ireland cried

I remember very clearly the two flags, Ireland and America, caught in the Irish breeze atop the pole at the edge of Powers Woolen Mill, a...

I remember very clearly the two flags, Ireland and America, caught in the Irish breeze atop the pole at the edge of Powers Woolen Mill, as our owner and friend, and the owner of the store, Frank, approached them to do what he said he had to.

Not half an hour before, we had returned home from a tour of downtown Galway, which is six hours ahead of US time. It was mid afternoon and we were shopping. But between leaving Galway and arriving home, it happened.

By that time, we had lived for a year in a duplex apartment in Kilcolgan, Ireland, and we would still like, as newlyweds, to start our life together with an adventure. As a dual Irish-American citizen, I had accepted a job for the country’s new science foundation. I was just one of the many millions of Americans whose roots go back to Ireland.

When the towers collapsed in Ireland, stories began to emerge hour after hour, day after day of firefighters and police officers who had lost their lives in the towers and had themselves emigrated from Ireland or whose parents or the grandparents had emigrated. That day, the Irish began to queue at the United States Embassy outside Dublin to sign the condolence book. Sometimes the line numbered over 4,000 people.

That Friday, Ireland closed its doors – the only country in the world, including America itself, to hold a national day of mourning for 9/11. Across the country, schools and businesses have closed and all sports and public activities have been canceled. The only things open were basically churches and bars. We attended the service at St Nicholas Collegiate Church in downtown Galway. Thousands more than its massive nave could contain gathered outside to hear the service broadcast over additional speakers; this scene repeated itself across the country.

Our apartment was located across from Frank’s shop, and I used to visit him at the front desk. He was a storyteller, entrepreneur and friend at the same time. In his shop, he spoke to tourists by selling them woolen sweaters and scarves, caps and jackets from the large reserve which he kept neatly arranged on the tables stretching from his post – behind the cash register and his cash register.

His shop was a popular destination, conveniently located on Galway’s main road, which was 20 minutes northwest. Just past Frank’s Shop you can take the exit and continue southwest towards the famous Cliffs of Moher. Or you can pivot southeast, towards Shannon Airport and Limerick. Or even head for the freeway that took you across the country to Dublin. First of all, however, tourists loved to shop and gas at the intersection – and buy a special Powers Woolen Mill.

But when I entered into conversation with Frank that day, he wasn’t in the mood for joking. He had something new next to the cash register, a little black and white TV. When I walked in he glanced over his shoulder, his face flushed, and said, “Look what they’ve done to your country”.

What I saw on the screen didn’t make sense: one of the Twin Towers was burning near its top. I had grown up in northeast New Jersey, 30 minutes from Manhattan, and I was familiar with the view. “What is that?” I asked, thinking maybe a small plane had crashed. But while we were watching, another plane flew into the second tower. We gasped and stepped back in shock. A few minutes later, my wife barged in the door. She had listened to the answering machine in our apartment. “Your mom left a message saying everyone is okay. What is she talking about ?

We pointed her at the little TV, and she started to absorb what we were. My brother and his wife, among other family members, worked in New York City. In fact, some of them commuted on the New Jersey train which stopped under the towers. Now she knew what mom was talking about.

But we weren’t crowded in front of this TV any longer. Frank was too upset for the America he loved and admired. He apologized and said he had to go home. He turned off the TV and the lights in the store. We followed him outside and he locked the door. And then he walked through the parking lot alone to the mast and put those two flags together at half mast.

Pete Mackey lives in Amherst.

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Newsrust - US Top News: September 11, when Ireland cried
September 11, when Ireland cried
Newsrust - US Top News
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