By Ray O’Hanlon
Dublin’s claims to the remains of St. Valentine might be disputed, but the city can safely say that it is a place where love, once born, long endures.
Michael D’arcy and his wife, Lil, live in Ossining, N.Y. But it was the Irish capital where love first took hold of their young lives, many, many years ago.
Michael and Lil — Lil being short for Elizabeth — first met at a fair in Finglas in 1938. What is today a crowded suburb was then little more than a quiet village beyond the edge of the city. Two pubs and a post office, not much else.
Michael and Lil, whose second name was Worrell, weren’t much impressed by the fair. "A couple of old swinging boats and a ring game," Lil remembers.
But the spirited 15-year-old was rather more impressed by the 17-year-old boy she met at the fair.
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Nothing much happened at first. Ireland in the 1930s was a place where romance was given time to blossom. But Michael and Lil became close and got to know each other better with every passing day.
"We did a lot of walking on what were then country roads. We would go to Mass together and the pictures," Michael said.
Michael began his working life as a pottery apprentice and then worked in construction. But his first full-job was at a psychiatric nurse at a hospital in Portrane.
Portrane is on the north Dublin coast. It is less than 10 miles from Finglas. But in the late 1930s, when cars were a rare sight on Irish roads, a few miles was a lot of miles. Michael and Lil soon lost touch, or, as Lil puts it, "we got lost."
In time, Michael met another young woman, also a psychiatric nurse. Michael and Sheila Kelly would get married in 1948.
Lil, meanwhile, was working herself, for a candy company called Williams and Woods. Michael was a fading memory, although not quite entirely gone from her thoughts. She was still a little sweet on the boy at the fair. She had not married anyone else.
Several years later, in 1953, Lil was traveling by train on an outing to Cork. Among the traveling party was a lady from New York, Hannah Conway.
Hannah Conway was impressed by Lil. She reckoned the now 30-year-old Dublin woman would do well in America. Hannah may have had other ideas too — a match between Lil and her son. Either way, she arranged it so that her son write Lil. Lil replied and a friendship grew in writing.
Lil packed her bags for the U.S. in 1955. The Conways sent her the fare and she sailed into New York harbor aboard the S.S. America, another Irish soul chasing her luck in the new world, just like millions before her.
Hannah Conway was at the pier with her daughter and son, Lil’s pen pal, Dennis.
New York worked its own particular magic and Lil married Dennis in a matter of months. They lived in Brooklyn and had three children, Muriel, Paul and Brian.
Dennis worked on the commuter trains and had a good knowledge of Westchester County. They decided to leave the city and picked Ossining, on the Hudson River, because it was served by lots of trains and provided easy access to the city. Best of both worlds.
Back in Ireland, Michael and Sheila were also raising a family. They would have four children, three girls and a boy.
Michael had left Portrane in 1961 and had gone to England to work in construction, as a carpenter. A few years later he returned to Ireland, which was by now going through its own construction boom. Michael went into the pre-cast concrete business and did quite well for himself.
But life, as it must, turns the wrong way at times. Michael’s wife, Sheila, died in 1980. Two years later and 3,000 miles away, Lil said her final good-bye to Dennis, who died of cancer in 1982.
Michael and Lil were, by now, unaware of each other’s lives. Michael did not even know Lil was in the U.S. He would only find out in late 1985 — at a funeral in now bustling Finglas.
Michael’s brother told him outside the church that the man he had just been speaking to a few feet away was Harry Worrell. Michael made for Harry, Lil’s brother.
"I asked him where the hell Lil had got to," Harry recalls. Harry told Michael the story. Michael and Lil had last met, briefly, in 1949. Their paths had diverged sharply down the years, although they had still much in common, both parents, both widowed.
Michael got Lil’s address from Harry. Harry, however, was not much up on American zip codes. Michael sent a letter and a Christmas card that very evening, minus the all important numbers.
But the mail got through the rain, sleet, snow and its lack of crucial digits.
Lil fired back a rapid reply and the two old friends began writing on a regular basis. Michael asked Lil if she would meet him for a coffee next time she visited Ireland. But Lil’s pull was stronger. She persuaded Michael, now in his mid-60s, to come to America. Michael arrived for two weeks in the summer of ’86 and stayed a month.
With the self assurance that a few years behind you brings, Michael and Lil wasted little time in deciding to get married.
"I said to her, ‘You got away first time,’ and she replied, ‘I thought you’d never ask me,’ " Michael remembers.
Michael returned to Ireland to sell his house and tell the tale to his rather startled but now grown kids. He was back before long and the two young lovers from Finglas finally tied their fates together in marriage on Oct. 10, 1986. Michael was 66 on his second wedding day, Lil 64 on hers.
Not that age mattered to either of them. Michael ran and completed the New York Marathon in 1989, ’90 and ’91. He started his own stained glass business and named it after Lambay Island, which he remembered was the main sight in view from the dunes of Portrane.
Michael makes windows, Tiffany-style lamps, jewelry and other stained glass ornaments. This being the week of St. Valentine he was asked to make some red glass hearts. But his real heart is not for sale. That belongs to Lil.
A nice love story, you all say. But it’s not quite fully told. The year after Michael and Lil were married, Michael’s daughter Michelle came to Ossining to, as Lil put it with a laugh, "visit the wicked stepmother."
Michelle met Lil’s family of course and promptly fell in love with her son Brian. Michelle and Brian were soon married and both Michael and Lil, apart from being lovers across a lifetime and an ocean, found themselves to be step-parents and in-laws all at the same time. They are also grandparents. But most of all they are each other’s, now more than 60 years after they first held hands on a quiet Dublin country lane.