Ed McHugh loved to play the piano. Music spoke to him his whole life as his personal inspiration and his constant muse.
He was born in Victoria, Canada in 1917 to a mother who was a talented pianist. And he must have paid attention. Because his mother died when he was five, yet at the age of six he was playing songs he heard in church, by ear. He never learned to read music, yet he played it all his life.
He made his mark as an engineer and a consultant for steam plants and paper mills around the world. He loved his work and his family. But playing the piano was his escape. He led three orchestras when he was young. And even with a wide and varied repertoire of Big Band hits, the one song he loved most and everyone asked him to play was Galway Bay.
His daughter, Frances, married my older brother Tommy, and I remember Ed McHugh playing Irish songs late into the night whenever there was a piano near-by.
Ed died in 2001 at the age of 84. Frances brought some of her father's ashes, and ashes of her mother and her husband, (my brother) on our trip to Ireland. So after finding Inistioge and Sligo for my father, and a bit of others, of course Galway Bay was our next destination.
"He loved Galway Bay like your dad loved boats," she told me.
On first glimpse I have to say that Galway Bay didn't seem like the right place at all. The promenade was beautiful but seemed far too public. So we drove south of Galway City and just a few miles away we came to a stunning turnout in the bay. It was a rocky cove with a serene feeling and something even more rare in Ireland, a place to park. We pulled in and walked down to the river.
"You're right," she said. "You do know when you find the right place. This is it."
She climbed a big rock and let loose what she had of Tommy's ashes and of her father's and her mother's, as well. I found a very quiet spot along the shoreline for the very last dusting of my own father's ashes. And when we met back up, I noticed a little restaurant just up the road overlooking the picturesque bay. And so of course I suggested we get some Irish Coffee there.
"Let's toast the gang!" she said.
Padraicin's is a beautiful wood-paneled restaurant. It has music playing and Irish flags lining the walkway, something I hadn't noticed from down the beach. Inside there are ships' ropes and nautical adornments on every wall. It is a true celebration of the sea.
And right next to the huge picture windows looking out on Galway Bay, is a beautiful old grand piano. Now what are the chances of finding all that in one place?
Sometimes fate just leads you where you are supposed to be.