So far, I’ve been across the pond to visit Ireland 10 times. Halfway through the first trip I knew there was a book in it. I hope you agree. This manuscript covers my first two Irish sojourns. Uncharacteristically, I scribbled a freewheeling diary during these adventures, giving me rich source material and accounting for the occasionally embarrassing admission or two. The first segment exhaustively covers the events, impressions and feelings of 17 quick but heavenly days in the early autumn of 1993, falling in love with the country and my traveling companion at the same time. Heavenly! The second segment recounts the highlights of an entire summer spent fruitfully immersing myself in the Irish culture. These 3 miraculous months of 1994 encompassed the beginnings of my real Irish education. I hope it’s fun to read. It was fun to live. Life is cool. I suggest life.
– Summer, 1993 –
. Tina was spent from the days’ amazements, opting to stay behind and kick up her aching feet, while I set-off in search of the high-life, our last five punts worth of collective change jiggling in my pocket. With only one twenty pound note stuffed away to get us home, poverty was bringing our Irish road-trip to a regrettable end. But there was still the night. I wasn’t done with Dingle yet.
. I went to check out the other much talked about local pub- a place called ‘An Droichead Beag’, Irish for: “The Small Bridge”. True to its reputation, An Droichead Beag was party-central for Dingle Town. The rollicking session rocked, roared and raged almost non-stop for hours. The musicians were ‘brilliant’- a highly over-used modifier in Ireland, that can apply from anything from a poet to a pig. They seemed to know and feel the music with a greater depth- or at least coherence, than the musicians at O’Flaherty’s. The session there seemed like a loose jam of freshly-met strangers. These people seemed a part of each other’s lives. They played with such eloquence and grace, I imagined them jamming together since childhood.
. By ten o’clock- happy revelers were crammed into ‘the Bridge’ like smoked sardines in a can. Great beer flowed in rounds galore! The etiquette of pub drinking in Ireland, makes it very difficult to have a quick pint or two and move on. No one buys one pint at a time. Someone is always buying rounds for the table, and it is an expected, if unspoken rule, that eventually- you follow suit. This can make it very expensive to drink, if you’re sitting at a large table. Further, the new round is typically ordered before the old pints are half-drained. This is to allow for the time it takes, to procure the brew. Even after waiting your turn at a sometimes mobbed bar, it can be a long process before the frothy stout, (which comes out looking like nothing so much as chocolate milk), finally settles enough to serve. Sometimes the pints stack up like planes waiting to take off from a gridlocked airport. This was such a night. The busboy could scarcely clear the empties away before our table was carpeted with refills. We doubted he would make it through the all but impassable throng of merrymakers, back to the bar with his precarious armful of glasses intact, but the man- though young, was a professional, bellowing “COMING THROUGH!”, and bulldozing his way strait up the middle of the chaos, without mishap, in a very impressive display of job skills.
. No doubt- this was my greatest Irish craic yet. In that bar, I enjoyed some of the best times I’ve ever enjoyed in the company of men! At one point, nearly every soul in the room fell silent, when a traditional singer began to spontaneously offer a mournful Gaelic blues. A few useless ignoramuses jabbered away as aggressively as ever, oblivious to the shift of humors in the environment surrounding them. The beefiest Irishman in the room took it upon himself to confront the thoughtless dolts, bellowing: “Fer Chris’sakes, gentlemen! Show some respect to the young lass! Can’t you hear? She’s SINGIN’!” At once, the braying jackasses backed down. Turning sweetly to the woman, the intervening muscleman cooed: “You can go right ahead with yer singin’, now miss.”
. The nonplused vocalist simply cleared her throat and began again. Throughout the slow, mysterious, beautifully-sung and hauntingly-sad ballad, you could have heard your own blood pumping through your arteries, it was that quiet and respectful in there. Her voice soared, evoked deep emotions, nudging long forgotten genetic-memories of suffering, the triumph of love, the bottomless chasm of loss. Goose-bumps brought shivers to the most hardened of men. Tears welled, lumps formed in throats. As a performer myself- I recognized it as a great moment. Despite the rip-roaring fun, it was getting claustrophobic in there. The air- if you can call it that, was hot and stale and harsh- clouded with gales of ambient smoke, driving me to step out for a walk in the refreshing night air. Heading towards our new lodgings, I ended up at O’Flaherty’s, to enjoy what was becoming my usual one pint too many.
. Fortunately, the joint was packed with new acquaintances, most of whom offered to buy me a parting pint. Jemma and Gregor were there, raving excitedly about their afternoon swim with Fungi. The English birds were there as well- Teri, and Clara who was disappointed that Tina hadn’t kept her promise to join her for a song. A German hunk named “Luther” sat at our table, quietly perusing his journal, which was liberally peppered with lovely water-color renderings of the places he had visited. Teri suddenly reached over and snatched the book from his hands, casually beginning to leaf through it. Luther seemed mortified, until he realized she couldn’t read the text, which was entirely in German. Spreading open the pages, Teri inquired about one particularly stunning composition depicting a quaint rural cottage, topped with an old-fashioned thatched roof. Luther said that he had been sitting on a boulder, sketching a misty bog, when a country-gentleman ambled by, stopping to hail him. Seeing the beauty of Luther’s work, the plain man insisted that the artist come to his home, where he could eat a hot meal and get a warm bed for the night, in exchange for rendering a likeness of his humble house the following morning. How could Luther refuse such a heartfelt offer? Come daylight, the country man watched, as Luther painted a tenderly artistic likeness of the Irishman’s humble abode. But when Luther began to tear the finished painting from his journal, to repay the man for his generous hospitality, he refused the gesture adamantly, insisting: “No-NO! That’s for you. I already know what my house looks like.”
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