A “Trip to Bountiful” with an FBI Agent Saint called Bob.
Two years ago, almost to the day, I was finishing up a tour with Bob Hickey, his wife Kate, and some of Bob’s family and friends. This wasn’t the first time Bob had been on a tour with us, and God knows he had been back to Ireland 20 times or more. But I had a feeling this would be his last time coming home to the birthplace of his mom and dad. It turns out, much to my own broken heart, that it was indeed Bob’s final return home to his beloved Ireland. Bob went home to “Fiddler’s Green” a year ago this month and it took months to have the words and ability to write about this.
I met Bob Hickey back in 2010 when I was “showing the flag ” of our company, even though we were not yet officially Wild West Irish Tours, at a Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) event in Fairfax, Virginia. Bob did not know anything about us but he immediately took me under his wing. I learned from him that he was a Navy guy and retired FBI. What he didn’t tell me was that he was the founding Chairperson of the Washington D.C. CCE and was chosen “Gael of the Year” at the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He was a legend in the D.C./VA/MD for his work of charity in and around the Irish-American community.
In March 2011, I took leap of faith and launched our business at the Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, Va. Bob and Kate Kane, his wife, came to the launch and we were delighted to see them again. At one point, Kate pulled me aside and said to me “you know, we have been to Ireland over 20 times now, and Bob’s parents are from there. We have never been on a tour. Tell me something esoteric about your tours that would help me make a decision about taking your tour.” Well, first I felt the need to go look up what “esoteric” meant, but whatever I babbled, Bob and Kate and his family booked a tour with us for 2012. I can’t even begin to express how massive this was to us. The fact that they trusted us, a brand new tour company, owned by two newcomers, gave us such a blast of confidence that we were walking on clouds and really began to believe in ourselves and the possibilities. Of course, we had to deliver the tour or a lifetime, and apparently, we did. But, they also overlooked our many growing pains.
In the meantime, Bob and I became best mates, and shared our sea stories together, and we both had a keen interest in the Civil War. Bob was the kind of guy that would have your back. In fact, Bob thought I might like to join the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and I did just that in a Fairfax chapter. Well, I went straight out and pissed off one of the officers for pushing our tours too much (so he said), and, em, I also poached their email address list, and sent out a couple innocent messages about the Wild West of Ireland. Next thing you know, (after I told this officer to pack sand) I was banned from the AOH. Well, Bob would have none of that and he defended me like a young F. Lee Bailey, and eventually got me reinstated. I told Bob I was ok with being banned but he said “Mikey, you don’t want this on your record or reputation.” He was of course exactly correct, and he helped me smooth feathers and we were able to get past “Hiberinangate.”
When Bob and Kate called me to tell me they were interested in going on our Northern Tour in 2016, I was still a little woozy from some radiation, (cancer treatment) but I made damn sure that I was back in Ireland for him. Bob was in his 80’s now, and when I saw him in Dublin, I thought of the book and film, “The Trip to Bountiful.” The story is about a woman getting late in life, who wanted to go home to her town of Bountiful, one last time. It became a spiritual journey for me, as I am certain it was for Kate. Just to bring this gentle, humble and faithful man around to places that EVEN HE, had never seen before, was gift and a Grace that I was blessed to be a part of. Bob, was slowing down alright but he still loved a good pint and the Irish music. Believe it or not, one night he came out of a restaurant in Moville, Donegal, (I was just arriving to pick them up) and he told me they were rushed out by a cranky older man, who was waiting for a table with his family. Well, I was gonna go have a word with this guy, and then I realized it was no other than Nobel Peace Prize recipient, John Hume. Looking at both of these old souls together, I would say one man was no better or worse than the other.
With every place we visited, and with every conversation by the fire, I knew I needed to savor and cherish these moments together. We all had a rich, fun and wonderful time together. For all I know, it was even esoteric. I will never forget it.
By March of 2017, Bob and Kate were back at the Auld Shebeen with us for a show with the Ganley Sisters and Donegal Hill. Bob was out selling raffle tickets for a free trip to Ireland. There I was with him on stage, helping him schlep the tickets for my pals at the….. AOH.
I still have hanging from my bed board the rosary Bob got me from Medjugorje – or was it from Fatima? Whichever it is, they are a treasure to me, and every night I pray with them, and sweetly recall “The Trip to Bountiful.