February 23, 2010

Reflections and Drinking in Ireland (part VI)

The Laurels Pub
Main Street, Killarney
I did venture outside Dublin. What might one expect in such a provincial countryside? Well, you’ll find lots of bars. In this way, you might think that the small villages and towns of Ireland do not differ much from Dublin. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, you find the real Ireland. The real Ireland is old. You can feel in on the road to Limerick. It seeps from the earth like ancient stonewalls fighting through the moss and grass. Old Ireland still has a Celtic tribal vibe that you cannot shake. At the same time, the villages are impossibly adorable. Imagine a Caribbean seaside village but really different. There are very colorful buildings, narrow streets and even palm trees (they’re really skinny and scraggly but the gulf stream’s humidity allows their growth.). Similar to the Caribbean, the locals speak an even less comprehendible form of English. I found this out upon our first interaction with our Ring of Kerry tour guide.
Guide: “Aye lads! Whas ur names the’?!?”
Me: “Joe and Colin.”
Guide:” Ah shite! Thars two fine Irish fookin’ names!”
Me: “Oh, ha ha (awkward). Yeah!”
The rest of the tour was beautiful but largely uninformative. I pride myself on being able to understand people with extreme accents and I was only getting every third word. Our guide did not really talk. Rather, he sang as he spoke. The words melded together like a poem hitting a wide variety of pitches as green hills, pressed hard against grey and damp skies as if in an effort to showcase their vibrant hues, rolled by our window. From what I could gather, the stories were rich. We went through a town with a statue of a crowned goat in the square. Every summer the locals select an actual goat king though an exhaustive process. He is then crowned, led up to a high elevated platform, given all the food he cares to eat, and is declared monarch of the town for three consecutive days. In this time, a large and never ending drinking celebration is held in his honor.
In truth, the tour could have been substituted for something else. I would rather have hiked a stretch of the coast or biked down provincial roads. I suppose I even would have preferred to play golf with a view of the Atlantic Ocean (the winds may even help my slice game). The whole experience was a bit melancholy. After all, we were not in Enniskillen. Enniskillen is the ancestral home of the Maguire Clan. Complete with charming Lochs and a castle with a history museum, it is a place I still long to see. The problem with Enniskillen is that, centuries ago, my ancestors were massive pricks to the English crown. Along with the O’Neil’s and the O’Donnell’s, the Maguire’s successfully defended Western Fermanagh from British influence before fleeing to France in the infamous, “Fight of the Earls.”
The idea was to gather the support of the Catholic French Monarchy and return with a huge army to invade Ireland and reclaim it for Catholicism. They never returned (it makes sense given the food disparity) and 

ended up becoming French nobility while serving in the army. When monarchy fell out of style in France, along with a lot of heads, many Maguire’s headed to North America. To make a point of the Maguire’s never coming back, Queen Elizabeth changed the makeup of the area. The land was given to Protestant migrants and would later become part of Northern Ireland. Though scheduled to visit Enniskillen one trip, weather intervened. Dublin papers declared it the, “Storm of the Century!” In reality, this statement was misleading because the year was 2004. Our trip altered, we decided to spend extra time in the south of Ireland. The time was not wasted.
The Laurels could have been any pub in provincial Dublin but it was the scene of a special night. The Laurels is a beautiful and inviting pub. This was apparent, despite the gaudy signs and streamers already up to signal the tourist season. A moss fire burned in a stone fireplace and danced as though it was one of the few occupants of the room. My father and I spoke of good times and put back Guinness. We joined the only other souls in the pub, a couple from Chicago. He was from Dublin, she was from Cincinnati; they had been engaged the night before in a countryside castle. Suddenly, we were not the only people in the room. A fiddle player tuned his instrument near our table. An entirely different musical act warmed up on a distant stage. We alternated buying rounds and contemplated the mysteries of life.
Within and hour the Laurels was beyond buzzing. A Celtic drum player had joined the fiddle next to our table. From a distance, you could hear a band playing the Irish standard, “Galway Girl.” Like the song claimed, the native girls’ hair was black and their eyes’ were blue. Like the sea-worn cliffs and the Book of Kells, their beauty was preserved from a time before the Vikings and before the English. I went to use the bathroom troughs and happened upon a pleasant discovery. The back room was dimly lit and filled with step dancers. These were not professionals, per se, they were just townsfolk. Step dancing at the Laurels! That is what younger people did for fun on a Saturday night. I stood somewhat amazed and somewhat fried, losing myself in the moment.
I returned to our table and showed my dad the back room. We reveled in the atmosphere and felt Irish enough to catch a leprechaun. As we sat down with yet another round, a familiar ballad crept through the night air. The large band on the stage began playing the John Denver classic, “Country Roads.” Everyone in the bar began to sing along. In this singular and symbiotic moment I felt who I truly was: an Irish-American. I doubt that the moment would have seemed so surreal without the help of Guinness, Jameson’s and Bulmer’s. In this way, I think the spirit of Ireland takes spirits to truly capture. If you find yourself in Ireland one day, take your own country road and have a great time. I know I cannot wait to get back.

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