I have spent a little bit of time in a lot of Irish pubs. (I do not think that The Confession Box was one of them, but you have to love its name.)
One night, for instance, Doug and I had drinks in a pub on the island of Inis Mor, where everyone was speaking Irish--until Roy Keane came on the television, and then the place grew absolutely silent. Keane had just quit the World Cup team over an argument with manager Mick McCarthy; it was huge news. The Irish Times devoted pages and pages to the situation, and a couple of nights before, at Sunday mass in Galway City, the priest had asked the congregation to pray for Mr. Keane. We sipped our pints and watched his interview, and when it was over the men in the pub went back to talking--in Irish.
And one afternoon, Lila and I sipped Irish coffees in a Dingle pub after getting drenched in a storm. There was no cozier place to be, a peat fire burning, rain streaming past the windows, each of us quietly and contentedly absorbed by a thick paperback book, the whiskey and coffee warming us from the inside out.
Another evening, Doug and I met my nephew for drinks in a pub along Eden Quay in Dublin, where the publican insisted he had no idea what an Irish coffee was. He amused my nephew by listening gravely to his instructions and producing the drink according to Shawn's instructions, insisting all the while that he'd never heard of such a thing. ("And is it an Irish coffee you'd be wanting?") (Of course he was just having a little fun with Shawn, who played along nicely.)
Shawn was a trouper. When we first found out that our trip was going to overlap his, we arranged to meet on a certain day between 2 and 2:30 p.m. in the middle of the O'Connell Street Bridge. That day we took the train from Galway to Dublin, and we misjudged how much time it would take to get from the railway station to the Jurys Inn Quayside, drop our luggage, and run for the bridge. Things were not helped by the fact that it was pouring rain--a steady, drenching downpour. "He won't be there," Doug kept saying as we jogged along the riverbank. It was already 2:25. "Nobody will be out in this weather."
"He'll be there," I said.
Dubliners were trudging across the bridge in the rain, some under umbrellas, many wearing the omnipresent dark green waxed coats. One figure stayed put in the middle of the bridge. The figure was dressed in bright red. It did not move. A cheerful bright red anorak in a sopping sea of trudging brown and green--it could only be my California nephew.
He had been there, waiting faithfully, getting wetter and wetter, for 25 minutes. We hugged, danced up and down for the Irish Times webcam (which, as it turned out, was not working that day), and then retired to Mulligan's for a pint. If I'm not mistaken, that was Shawn's first Guinness. And what a nice introduction to Guinness that was.
I've been to Gus O'Connor's in Doolin many times--first with Lila in 1990, when it was still very quiet, and later with Doug, when it had grown livelier and a German tourist almost mistook our table for the jacks ("Zip up! Zip up!"), and then a few years later, with Doug and John and Ann, when the place had grown so lively that there was no room for us and we had to go to the pub down the road.
One year our Galway friend drew up a list of Dublin pubs that we absolutely needed to see--Davy Byrne's, because of the "Ulysses" reference, of course, and a whole bunch of others that I can't recall because we left his carefully typed and annotated list on his living room table by mistake and then went and caught the train to Dublin. We found plenty of pubs (including Davy Byrne's) on our own, of course.
You've probably heard of O'Donoghue's, the traditional music pub just off St. Stephen's Green in Dublin. It's where The Dubliners got their start, and the pub still has music just about every night.
It's a bit touristy. But ah well, we were tourists. The pints were good, the music was delightful, and the crowd was friendly. The pub is long and narrow, with a counter along one wall and a semicircle of chairs at the front, under the window, for the band.
One night when we were there, the place was absolutely packed with tourists--Germans, primarily. The band played, everyone talked, people went outside to smoke and other people squeezed in and took their place.
A young German man showed up with a fiddle case and asked if he could sit in. The musicians were very nice and told him yes. The German man was an odd combination of vanity and humility--once seated, he sort of took over, proposing tunes and playing lengthy solos (he was not nearly as accomplished as the others), and then standing up and elaborately bowing to each musician at the end of each song. It was unclear if he was bowing to them, or for them.
Late, late into the evening, the musicians started up one last tune, and this one captured the attention of everyone in the bar. All talking ceased, and everyone turned and faced the band. Some linked arms. Some swayed. Everyone sang along, and we sang, too, captivated and united, Americans, Germans, Irish, and everyone else.
What song could this possibly be? "Carrickfergus"? "Dirty Old Town"? "The Foggy Dew"?
Ah no. None of those. The musicians played, fiddles skirling, mandolin plunking, the bodhran thrumming out the beat. And everyone in O'Donoghue's that night sang lustily together those immortal words of the late, great--John Denver? Ah yes. Take me home, country roads....
I can hear it still.
1 hour ago