Originally Published: August 14, 2008 10:23 p.m.
In my last column I began to tell you stories I overheard in an Irish pub and I ran out of room before I ran out of stories. (If you missed it, let me know and I'll e-mail it to you, because I had a lovely introduction, or visit dCourier.com.)
And, considering that I was taking notes in the middle of an Old World alehouse with sawdust on the floor, where generations of Dubliners had argued with each other over a few pints and then returned the next day to argue all over again, it's no wonder there are stories to tell.
After all, it's the grand Irish tradition of telling stories (and lies) that has produced some of the world's greatest literature.
I spent the evening nursing a single-malt and listening in at the Stag's Head, a Victorian pub in Dublin. It's a wonderful place with an interior of deep mahogany, mirrors and tile dating from 1895. During the day it's a quiet sanctuary. In the evening, the rumble builds around the head of an unfortunate stag mounted over the bar. If you're new to the pub, the barman will tell you that the 14-pointer was captured in Dublin. And when the poor rebellious creature broke loose it crashed head-long right through the wall of the Stag's Head. So they left it there.
With an introduction to blarney like that, how could you not sit and listen to the conversations around you? As most of the stories I heard had a broad dialect to them, while I'm remembering them to you, you'll need to use your imagination a little to hear the Irish in them because part of the magic is in the brogue.
Sitting to the right of me on the red leather bench were two working-class men having a quiet time with a brew before going home to face the wives and kids. "Sure it's not always easy to find a pint in the North, for all they're that courteous. We stopped the car to have a sip of something at a pub in one of the Glens of Antrim. Have you been
there? You'll want to have a care, then. The pub was a long, low building with a long, low sign and a lot of doors going in.
"My friend and I went in one and as there was nobody about we sat quietly until the landlady came and so we ordered two pints. She looked a little sad and said she was sorry; she only had bottles to give. But perhaps we could try the pub next door? We stepped into her front parlor by mistake."
Walking past me toward the long mahogany bar, two college students ordered pints of Guinness. When one said to the other, "This is good craic, like." I asked the nice bartender just what that meant.
He laughed and said, "Craic is only an Irish word and there's no English for it - they're too full of themselves. But the nearest I can tell you is it's an Irish good time with music and friends and a bit of whiskey to lubricate the whole thing. And, of course, the word sounds a bit like that evil drug.
"There's a story out there of two Irish lads in Paris walking and talking about where to go and find some good craic. One of those nosey French policemen heard them and sure if he didn't think that they were looking for something else entirely. And they spent the rest of the night in a French lock-up without any craic at 'all."
After 9-11, the lines in Dublin to sign a book of sympathy stretched for blocks as hundreds of grief-torn Irishman stood for hours just for an opportunity to express to us how broken and savaged they felt as well. On the other side of me, two ladies were - remarkably enough - discussing 9-11.
"And did you go to sign the book?" one asked. "That I did," replied her friend, "although the line was so long and the wait was so heavy that I was late getting home to fix Daniel his dinner. But putting my name in a book of sorrows for those poor people was little enough to do after such a terrible thing. And sure he didn't mind the late supper at all."
There are supposedly 450 pubs in Dublin, each with patrons and stories to tell and all will greet you with "Cead Mile Failte" or "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes."
While I was sitting there quietly eavesdropping, some American tourists approached me and asked for directions. Ireland is the only place in the whole world where I blend in well enough for such a thing to happen. I just smiled and pointed silently. I didn't want to lose the moment.
Go to Ireland, you may not be asked for directions, but in the lanes, in the pubs, in the villages, you will meet a hundred kindred spirits.
Leslie and Mike Ross have owned Kachina Travel since 1973.