Óró, sé do bheatha ‘bhaile!

Peter Shortall as Jack Straw.

Oh-ro, you’re welcome home!

Before my friends from LA arrive and fill my apartment with the sounds of young life, I wanted to write a little bit about my friend Peter J. Shortall.

I call him a friend even though I altogether spent only a few days with him in Ireland, almost three summers ago now. He and another older gentleman, Dara Vallely, graciously gave us so much of their attention and patience, and I likely learned more about Ireland from them than I ever would have on my own.

He died on Thursday. And I only discovered this because I’m a Facebook troll and noticed a recent status update from another fellow I met in Ireland. It’s an odd thought, but if not for Facebook, I may never have known.

I can’t quite explain my reaction his death. There was almost immediate acceptance, but I still want to cry a little bit. More than that, I want to grab a pint and just tell all my stories about him with others who knew him. Which I’ll likely do at some point this week with my friend Megan. Peter was very kind to the both of us. He deserves some form of a wake, to the best of our abilities.

Peter and Dara are members of the Armagh Rhymers, a folk theater group that brings old Irish traditions to life for school children and adults alike. Megan’s multimedia package focused on these mummers, and I often tagged along with her because Dara and Peter were veritable fonts of Irish culture. Their families have long histories in Armagh, so they could help me with any question I had. Almost. As an aside, I once asked Dara what he thought my ethnicity was, and he responded with a smile and a fair guess: “Puerto Rican…?”

But back to Peter. He was a little more gruff than Dara, and a lot less talkative, but his constant teasing showed us he cared. When we treated the mummers to dinner at the youth hostel, Peter kept looking around and asking for the chips. Or he’d tease us because even though we’d been there for a few weeks, we hadn’t tried soda bread yet. He promised he’d bake some for us too.

He didn’t get a chance to do that, but the day before we were set to fly back to the States, he and Dara gave me and Megan a little tour. I’d mentioned that Mosby and I had a lot of trouble finding St. Brigid‘s Well, and sure enough Dara knew its exact location. Peter tagged along because even though he grew up there, he either had never been or couldn’t remember where it was. Turns out the well was covered with plant life, including stinging nettles, that we had to clear off before we could actually see the well.

A very unexciting St. Brigid’s Well. And Dara.
Queen Medb as a mummer’s stone.

Peter also gave us mummer’s stones, little stones carved with the likeness of certain characters that each mummer carries for luck. He told me that if I take care of it, it will take care of me. Mine is supposed to be a likeness of Queen Medb, queen of Connacht in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. She was one bad ass queen, and really liked bulls. In fact, she wanted one particular bull so much, she went to war to get it. Her name supposedly means “she who intoxicates.” Dang.

I try to carry it with me most of the time, but I’m always paranoid that I’ll lose it or break it. But I suppose neglecting it by leaving it at home is just as bad, if not worse.

Any way, before I end up rambling any more, I’ll close with this video of Dara and Peter performing at our hostel.

Peter touched many, many lives during the course of his long full life. That’s all any of us can hope for, I suppose. Wish I could have been there to give you a proper send off, Peter!

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