Lois Paige Simenson | You Want Me To Write A What?!

When I visited Ireland six years ago, I felt a pull
for something I couldn’t explain. It wasn’t until recently that I understood
the reason. I became an orphan and a close friend advised me to research my
family. I learned I’m only a second-generation American on my father’s side.
His mother grew up in Avoca, Wicklow, Ireland, and her family emigrated to
America in the early 1900s to work in the copper mines of Butte, Montana. I
wanted to return to Ireland and visit Wicklow; I wanted to write about my

Coincidentally, when browsing writing websites, I met Elaine
Nolan, a writer, composer, and musician who lives in Carlow, Ireland. Our
friendship grew and before long we skyped and exchanged thoughts about our
writing projects. It was a rush to watch in real time on my computer in Alaska
as Elaine launched her novel, Of Heroes
and Kings
, at a Carlow pub in Ireland.

When I began to publish stories I’d email them to
Elaine for feedback. Then, out of the blue last fall, Elaine asked me to write
a song for an Ireland Easter Rising Centenary celebration concert she was
producing in April 2016, in Maynooth, Kildare. Ireland was celebrating 100
years of independence from Great Britain. Elaine suggested I write the lyrics
from the viewpoint of a descendant of Irish emigrants to America.

I read Elaine’s email and froze. Me? Write a song? This
posed a daunting task for me. I’d written a few short stories, but what did I
know about songwriting? I hadn’t even written poetry.
was somewhat intimidating, because let’s face it—Ireland is THE land of music
and songwriting. My immediate thought was: I’m
not worthy!
I’m not Bono—or Enya.

I hemmed and hawed, but Elaine wouldn’t take no for an
answer; I was committed. I embarrassed myself by asking if the 1916 Easter
Rising was a religious holiday about Jesus rising from the dead. She laughed.
“You Americans are so clueless. Google The
Proclamation of Independence for the
Republic of Ireland, it’s the most important document in Irish history because
it signified a turning point in Ireland’s fight for independence from Britain.
Then get back to me.”

I googled. I learned on April 24, 1916, the Irish
Citizen Army wrote
during a rebellion known as the 1916 Easter
Rising, so named because it took place Easter weekend. Patrick Pearse, one of
the leaders, read the Proclamation in front of the General Post Office in
Dublin to declare Ireland’s independence from Britain. The seven leaders of the
1916 Easter Rising knew when they signed the Proclamation, they would face a
British firing squad should their insurrection fail. It did, Pearse surrendered
on April 29, 1916, and the British executed the seven leaders, but the Rising
succeeded as a catalyst for the Irish to pursue their independence.

As I read the Proclamation for ideas on song lyrics, I
pictured the Irish fleeing their homeland during the 1840s famine. It led me to
research the history behind Ireland’s struggle for independence. I thought
about America’s struggle for freedom and the sacrifices made to keep it. The
process of researching Ireland’s struggle for freedom led me to appreciate
America’s in a way I hadn’t before. I drafted some lyrics, held my breath and
hit the ‘send’ button to Elaine. “If you don’t like this draft, I’ll write

“No need to write another, I like this one,” she
replied. I was knocked back, I couldn’t believe she liked it. Our music project
became reality when Elaine emailed me the sheet music and called it Dear Ireland. It was fun collaborating
with a friend half a world away on something I never in a million years thought
I could do.

Elaine worked tirelessly, first composing all of the
concert pieces, then pulling together musicians and singers for the concert.
She invited me to come, so I made plans to be there on April 10th.
When I told her I was coming, she invited me to sing with the choir alto section
for several music pieces she had composed. When I arrived in Carlow, she
informed me her tenor was sick, and would I please read my lyrics while she played
the cello? I became weak in the knees, but didn’t want to disappoint my friend.
We miraculously pulled it off without rehearsal.

When I chose to be a writer, if you would have said all
this would happen because of it, I would have rolled my eyes with a “yeah,
right.” But look where writing has led me—doing things I never dreamed I could
do. This was a good lesson: as writers, we should always try new things. I’m
ready to try something new again—maybe tackle a historical fiction novel set in
Wicklow—or write a poem. What the heck, I wrote a song didn’t I?

            Dear Ireland ~
               You became the dreams they dreamed, freedoms
borne of war, Some stayed to fight the tyranny, to settle up the score. The
sixteen hundred all stood firm, determined to be free, Your children told the
stories of Padraig and Connelly. Your exiled children’s stories were told in
another land, They were exiled to a liberty they did not understand. Their
broken hearts for those they loved, the ones that stayed with you, Sons and
daughters know the sacrifice, this freedom gift from you. And from this cost
and sacrifice, their hard-won liberty, on east and west Atlantic shores,
freedom wasn’t free. O Ireland, all your children know ’twas hard-won liberty… hard-won

Lois Paige Simenson lives in Eagle River and writes for
newspapers, magazines, and blogs at loispaigesimenson.com. She is working on
two novels,
The Butte Girls Club and Otter Rock.
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