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Irish on the Piss

Nearly a month after actually arriving in Ireland I did what I should have done one of the first days; I went for a night out on the piss in a real Irish pub. I'd been out before, but that was with Ger and Shane, Irish twenty-somethings and their friends who went to the type of bar you get anywhere in the world; trendy loud thumping music from the States and Britain completely drowning out conversation, with Budweiser and Miller Lite on tap.

This was my first night out at a real Irish pub though, at a pub called "Sine," prounced "Shanay," not like the math term. I went out with two Minnesotans who arrived at the hostel that day, who were a breath of stale old air for me. They talked about drinking "pop," about the towns that I grew up around in accents ripped straight from the Great Plains.

As nostalgic as they made me, the real stars of the evening were the Irish. After initially standing quietly in front of a TV watching Roy Keane get interviewed (a story the bartender--who looked suspiciously like my friend Tom, displaced from Indiana--called, "more important than last week's election") about his regrets at not playing in the World Cup. But within thirty seconds of the end of the interview, the Irishmen (and they were all men) were talking loudly, laughing, and coming to sit with us.

The Irishmen were uniformly friendly, and were all drinking real Irish beer as well, rather than the Miller and Bud that my friends had favored. As we sucked down pints of Guiness and Murphy's, we talked about our lives. Something about these Irish pub-crawlers encouraged me to say more about my personal history than I normally tell my closest friends. The beer obviously had something to do with it, but the crawler's openess encouraged the same from me.

One of these "Irishmen" was actually an English ex-pat, moved over to Ireland during the Thatcher years, and no longer allowed back home for unmentionable actions done against the Thatcherite government. This English ex-pat, Ian, was from Newcastle, and when I said that Newcastle Brown Ale was one of my favorite English beers, he said, "Yes, it's the second best thing out of Newcastle." When I asked the obvious question, he answered, "The very best thing out of Newcastle is the M1," and seemed very pleased with himself when I laughed (probably more than the joke deserved, but once again, the beer had something to do with it). I guess he didn't expect an American to know the British motorway system.

Around 10pm the live Irish music started. Opposed to those bars I'd been in with my mates in Dulin, there was no massive sound system pumping out tunes to disaffected Gen Xers. When there was no live music, there was simply no music. If truth be told, this is what I usually prefer. But the male and female guitar and drum duo was a very acceptable alternative to bar crowd noise.

The duo put out a wonderful Irish-style blues. It was good stuff, just at the right volume level so you could listen to it if you desired, or continue trying to get the Thatcherite rebel to reveal his crimes, if so desired.

I was distracted from my British inquisition by an Irishman with an impenatrable Cork accent who wanted me, at that moment, to understand the difference between the P-51 Mustang and the Hurricane. From his five minute long lecture (assisted by friendly clueless nods from me), I understood only, "Mustang," "Hurricane," "Battle of Britain," and "air over Berlin." He seemed to think that I'd be very interested in this, and was only a mite offended when I got up to get a fresh pint in what turned out to be the middle of a sentence. (I don't think he was too offended; when I left the pub that evening, he gave me a strong two handed handshake, the type you give someone who has changed your life but don't want to embarrass by hugging in public.)

I might have been able to pick out more of what he was trying to tell me, but during the middle of his lecture, the musical duo went from the Van Morrison meets Shane McGowan style into that distinctive Irish classic, "Sweet Home Chicago," which is always a crowd pleaser.

It turns out that "Sweet Home Chicago" was also their finale. The pub was officially "closing," and it was time for them to close their doors and pretend that nothing was going on inside. The doors shut, the shutters were clamped up, and no one left. I'd previously read about "drinking up time," but this was my first time actually experiencing it. At closing time, pubs must close their doors and stop selling alcohol. However, you do still get a half an hour to finish your pints. In reality, "drinking up time" effectively means that no one new enters the pub. The Garda can't come in to check all that easily, and most don't really care anyway. The pubs simply close up and continue pulling pints. So at 11:30 in Sine, despite the closed the doors and shutters I continued to drain pints of Murphy's for over an hour.

I mentioned how great this was to my new Anglo-Irish friend (still resolutely refusing to tell me of his left-wing revolutionary history), and he laughed. "This is nothing. I was on Valentia Island about a month ago, and when I asked the publican when he was closing up, he looked at his watch and shrugged. 'Oh, December sometime.'"

Sine was also a good test of Rule #1 about pubs: "The quality of a pub can be determined easily. It is inversely proportional to the quality and cleanliness of their bathroom." Of course, as people drink more and have more fun at pubs, their aim and habits of cleanliness take a turn for the worst, so this law just makes sense. And Sine's bathroom was no exception. The "urinal" was just the wall, with a slightly slanted floor to make sure most of the urine went towards the drain rather than your shoes (this is not the first time I've been happy that I've had waterproof boots here in Ireland, but been the happiest I've been to have waterproof boots).

When I left close to an hour and a half after closing time, I believe I was the first to leave the bar. But work called in the morning, and more importantly, I was broke.


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This page last updated on 11 June 2002. Buy me a Guiness to hear the end.
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