The day after the attacks in America, my friend, who had returned from Dublin, told me that everyone wanted to do something for us and that they were going to hold a Mass of Consolation for us that Friday the 14th. My small group and I had spent most of the day before in front of the television, trying to get our minds around what had happened. We had gone out and visited a couple of archeological sites, but our hearts weren't in it. We felt sadness, a sense of dislocation, and a growing sense of deep anger.
On that Friday morning we walked over to the little Church of St. Gobhnait, the patron saint of the village. We were early and the church was about half full. The children of the little two-room school house had taken charge of the decorating. Hanging off the front of the altar were two hand-made paper flags, on the left was the Stars and Stripes and on the right the Irish tri-color. Later I was told that although they had looked everywhere they could not find an American flag and so had made one out of paper. But I know they had plenty of tri-colors of all sizes. So as not to make the American flag look second-rate they had chosen to make their own flag out of paper as well, so the two flags would match. This was never mentioned, but I was deeply touched by their sensitivity.
The service, conducted by the parish priest, was in Irish. This is a Gaeltaecht church and it is required that services be conducted in Irish. There was singing by the children from the school. There was music from a local fiddle and a flute. There were tears. It was a very powerful experience, and I think it was exactly right for us at that time. I was asked to say something at the end of the service. I am not fluent in Irish, but I had just enough to thank them for their kindness and tell them how much it meant to us that they had come together in this way for us, and for our country.
After the service, a steady stream of people came up to us and told us how sorry they were. I remember a young couple, strangers, had come to the service. They approached me and said, almost apologetically, "We are English, but we just wanted you to know how much we regret what has happened and how deeply sorry we are."
As long as I live I will never forget that service or the gentle kindness of the people of the village. As confused as we Americans were, and yes, even as angry, they had come forward and done a sweet, wonderful thing.
They had seemed to really regret the lack of an American flag. When I got home I called my congressman and arranged to have two flags flown over the capitol on the next St. Patrick's day. On my next visit I brought them the flag, along with a certificate telling that it had been flown for the people of the village on 17 March 2002, in appreciation for their kindness on 14 September. I kept the second flag for myself.