As a new member of Cincinnati Friends Meeting, I appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself. I am a historian and a writer. I have taught in Ireland and Germany, as well as at several American universities. My last position was with the Union Institute and University here in Cincinnati. Although my first book was on H. L. Mencken (not a very Quakerly subject), most of my work has been in Irish and Irish American history. My book on the Irish Famine will be published this October. I have also written a couple of novels, a play, the scripts for several musicals, and a series of theatrical presentations dealing with Irish history. My piece for the 175th anniversary of the Irish Famine will be staged this fall at the Cincinnati Irish Heritage Center—COVID permitting,
Since the 1960s, I have been deeply involved in traditional music. Over the years I have accumulated a collection of instruments, always in the hope of finding one I can really play. As they say, hope fades last. Still, for the past 20 years I have enjoyed performing with a local Celtic band, Ceol Mhór. I have also been honored and delighted to occasionally provide music for Cincinnati Friends Meeting, sometimes with my adult children.
Despite my interest in things Irish, I am of Welsh and Pennsylvania German extraction. My father was a Methodist minister, and I grew up in a strong a hymn-singing tradition that I still honor. In college I was in the choir and attended the Presbyterian church on campus. A year after we married, my wife and I went to Dublin, Ireland in 1964. Everyone we knew was Roman Catholic. There wasn’t a Protestant in sight. Well, they were there, of course, but, given the peculiar history of Ireland, one was never sure what sort of Protestant one might meet. Church, therefore, became a complicated affair, and we rather drifted away. Unfortunately, we didn’t think of the Quakers.
But we did think of them when we moved to Arizona in 1975. We had a son by then who was getting his first experience of American (and western) machoism. Since he was not interested in fighting anyone, my wife decided that he should learn that there were groups of people who were equally uninterested in violence. So, we began attending a Quaker meeting in Phoenix. When we eventually moved to Bloomington, Indiana, we picked up with a meeting there. For a time, I participated in the meeting’s jail visitations. When we came to Cincinnati, we lived in Northside and began attending meetings at Community Friends on Winding Way. We eventually moved to Anderson Township, and then in less than a year, my wife died. Unfortunately, at that point I drifted away from attending meeting.
A few years ago, my son and I felt the need to get back in touch with Quakers. The problem was that by then I was no longer driving, and my son was still living in Northside, thirty to forty minutes away. And at this point, I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make. The logistics of getting from Northside to Anderson and then back across town to Winding Way with its 10:00 AM start rather ruled out Community Friends. Eastern Hills Friends, delightful people who like to sing hymns, also meet at 10:00 AM, unfortunately. Although within fifteen minutes’ drive from my house (but not quite within walking distance), fitting in the trip from Northside still proved problematic. What we needed was a meeting that broke what seemed an unwritten 10:00 AM law of Quakerdom. We needed to find a meeting that started at 11:00 AM. And at Cincinnati Friends we found one!
More importantly, we found a wonderful group of warm and welcoming people. Although our attendance was somewhat spotty, when the pandemic set in and Zoom became an avenue for worship, I was able to become a regular attender at meetings and the virtual social "gatherings” held during the early, dark months of COVID. I finally decided that after all these years it was time that I sought membership in the meeting.
Among the aspects of Quakerism that have always impressed me is the balance that Friends seem to find, or at least strive for, between the inward-turning spiritual life of the individual and the meeting, and the embrace of the world beyond. Depending on circumstances, the Beloved Community may be found both within and without the meetinghouse doors. Since attending Cincinnati Friends Meeting and hearing the inspiring voices around me, I have also realized that I have barely begun my spiritual journey. It is time for me to pick up the pace.