A blog by Lori Lyons

Friday, April 7, 2023

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling


When I first started dating The Coach a thousand baseball games ago, we spent time getting to know each other.

We talked about our jobs, baseball, our interests, baseball, our astrological signs and, of course, our families. I was just getting started in my own family genealogy back then, so I'm sure we talked about that. And I'm sure there was a point early on when he mentioned that his family was "just a little bit Irish."

He lied. 

The Coach's last name is Luquet, which is totally French, but this man is totally Irish through and through. His family isn't a "little bit" Irish, it's a whole helluva lot of Irish -- well, his mom's side is  anyway. 

Marty's mom, Jane, was a Rafferty, a classic Irish name said to have originated in County Donegal in Ireland. It means "prosperity" or "one who will prosper" in the old tongue, and a couple of the cousins have lived up to that promise more than others.

Jane's mother's name was Martina Daly, yet another fine Irish name, which means "assembly." (That one they have taken to heart.) Her line also includes a Kelley, a Culligan, a Ryan, and a Dwyer. Then, one of Martina's sisters married a Foley. 

All are fine Irish names which make it pretty difficult to trace. Do you have any idea how many John Raffertys there were or how many of them came to America? Lemme tell ya, there were plenty! Finding the right ones in Jane's ancestry is like trying to find that proverbial needle in a haystack. 


But they don't care about those Raffertys that much, only the ones they know. So, sometime in the early 1970s, someone decided that all the cousins and friends needed to get together to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Everyone wore green and brought a dish, and someone cooked up some corn beef and cabbage. And of course, there was plenty of beer and an off-tune rendition of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The party was held in the garage of George and Martina Rafferty's home on Wilton Street in Gentilly .  

Martina (Daly) Rafferty, the Second Bonnie Colleen and her husband George. 

They decided it was so much fun, they did it again the next year. But, in typical New Orleans fashion, this time they elected a king and a queen -- actually, a Grand Marshall and a Bonnie Colleen. The first Grand Marshall was, of course, George Rafferty, who had lent everybody his garage. The first Bonnie Colleen was Jen Ortis, Martina's niece. Martina was the second.

Of course, Irish families grow. Some more than others. It didn't take long to outgrow the little garage. After a few years the party was moved to a rental hall down the street. By the time The Coach and I got together in the early 1990s, the family had grown so large that it had to rent one of the New Orleans area's largest wedding reception venues to hold them all. When that got too expensive, it moved to a small Lions Club hall in Old Metairie.
I'll never forget my first time my then-boyfriend invited me to this party his family was having for St. Patrick's Day. "Wear green," he said. I did. Then I met every single member of his family in one evening. A year or two later, I was sending out wedding invitations to all of them. Then, 25 years later they somehow elected me their Bonnie Colleen.

Me, the 46th Bonnie Colleen.

Among the highlights of the annual event are the communal dancing of the Y.M.C.A. and We Are Family. After six years of trying for a baby and a huge baby shower the same week a soon-to-be-mother decided she was going to keep her baby, it was a glorious moment when I finally was able to boogie into the family circle with a little baby named Lora Leigh, all dressed in green. 

Another highlight of the party is a "skit" of sorts, which is supposed to alternate between the younger generation and the older. Often a commentary on current events, there is some sort of theme and an assortment of costumes in which the participants parade through the hall, led by the Grand Marshall and the Bonnie Colleen. One year the elder ladies dressed up as the "Spice Girls," complete with paprika, parsley and garlic. We've also roasted politicians and celebrated the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl victory.

 I've always thought of the St. Pat's Party as my annual test to see if I can remember which kids belong to which parents and which spouse belongs with whom. I don't always pass. Kids grow up. Faces and hair color change. People move away, get married, have their own kids, get divorced. And go to the great St. Patrick's Garage Party in the sky.

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, two St. Patrick's Days passed without a party at the Lions Club. And when we finally got the clan back together last month, I couldn't help but notice how many were missing, how few were in attendance. 

Jane. Pappy. Alice. Bob. Kate. Sweetie. Vera. Dottie. Snaps. Stevie. Sister Mary Brian. L.J. Michael. 

Those are the names of the faces I will remember doing the silly Y.M.C.A. dance and putting on goofy costumes to dance through the crowd of their brothers, sisters and cousins, beer in hand. There always seems to be a moment in the midst of the merriment when it hits me that they're not here anymore. There were many more my husband and his cousins remember from before I came along. All are fondly remembered and dearly missed. 

 Jane Rafferty Luquet with her brother Steve Rafferty and sister Alice Rafferty Brechtel

I can't help but wonder what George and Martina would think of the legacy they've left behind. I think they'd be pretty amazed that their little garage party has been carried on for so many years by their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And I think they would see that there are enough little wains running around to keep the party going for a few more generations as well.  

I think they would raise a beer then break into an off-key version of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.



1 comment:

  1. Hi Lori
    Tried contacting you on FB. Not sure is I had the right Lori. Saw your Gumbo blog on the Cross family. I desend from Anastasia Bourgeois' brother Eugene Bourgeois. Chk your messenger spam, or look me up. Stephen Dubret.