Stories of Darkness
Destination: Slainte in NYC
Mode of Transport: Guinness
Alex, 27, could easily be casted as one of those dark characters in a Jim Sheridan film. One can almost picture him playing the role of the antagonist in a film about “the troubles”. When we saw him, he was wearing a tee shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, that read “Jameson”, and donned a knit cap, in kelly green, that read the same. It was St. Patricks Day.
March 17 – Saint Patrick’s Day
The day started out sunny and warm. As the hours passed, the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped. James Pfeiffer, a priest in the parish I grew up in, used to tell me and my friends, that God would never give the Irish a nice day in which to celebrate, because if He did, there would be no hardship to talk about, and hardship, after all, is what they like to celebrate. He said this more than once, and as far back as I can remember, March 17th was never blessed with great weather. I don’t necessarily believe in what that crazy priest had to say about the Irish, but to some degree, I sort of understand what he meant. I guess history has played its part to confirm this.
Movies like “the Boxer” or “In the Name of the Father”
You see, nobody does “dark” like the Irish. If you have a chance, watch movies like The Boxer or In the Name of the Father; if that’s too heavy, give Billy Elliot a look. If you’ve seen these films already, watch them again. At the end of all these films, even the funny ones, like The Commitments, the viewer feels relieved that everything turns out well in the end; but when it really comes down to it, the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking weave in the fabric of the story, is what’s most riveting.
I grew up in a neighborhood that was predominantly Irish, so I have an inherent affinity for the culture. I went to a University that has a strong Irish affiliation, one of the very first countries I visited when I graduated from college was Ireland, my favorite musical group is U2, and most of my friends are of Irish descent. My good friend Shawn used to tell me that though I’m Filipino, I really grew up Irish Catholic, which is hard to argue.
At a wedding in the town of Thurles, in County Tipperary.
One of my fondest memories as a young man was a week I spent in Ireland in which I was a guest at a wedding which had taken place in the town of Thurles, in County Tipperary. But it was a day spent in a Dublin pub, named Johnnie Fox’s (which to my memory looked every bit like something that was taken right off the set of “the Hobbit”) that was the highlight of my trip.
[Tweet “In the pub, storytelling was highly prized; and the ones told that night were some of the most eloquent and animated that I have ever witnessed.”]
That day, I had many a Guinness with a bunch of madmen that were on a hurling team. If you haven’t heard of it before or seen it, just imagine a hybrid of lacrosse, field hockey, and rugby. It was that evening that I really appreciated the dichotomy of the Irish. From a bunch of guys that played a game that can only be described as primitive, I had the most civilized conversations. In the pub, storytelling was highly prized, and the ones told that day, leading to evening, were some of the most eloquent and animated that I have ever witnessed. I was certainly schooled in the art of storytelling that day.
Whether they be stories of hardship, or drunkenness, or sport; the Irish can tell a good story, and I guess that’s what always drew me to them. This country produced some of the greatest storytellers of all time, such as literary giants like Joyce, Wilde, Yeats, Beckett, Doyle. A diverse group at that. For example, read Dubliners and The Van by Joyce and Doyle respectively and you’ll see that they are as different as they are good. On the big screen, you have directors and actors such as Sheridan, Jordan, Day-Lewis, Neeson. In music, U2, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy. The list goes on.
The wind started to pick up as Brenda and I ducked into our favorite Irish Pub on the Bowery. We got two seats at the bar and Alex gave us a warm greeting, looking every bit sincere when he told us that he was happy to have us there.
He is far from a dark character, more “Quiet Man”, than “Michael Collins”. His brogue is infectious, and I find myself holding back from mimicking him. He started to pour us our Guinness, and took our lunch order of Corned Beef and Cabbage and Irish Beef Stew.
As we waited for the Guinness to settle (for those of you who may have never had a Guinness Stout, it takes time to pour a proper one) he shared an anecdote with us about his first day behind the bar.
The story went something like this:
A very intoxicated young woman tried to order a drink from him, and he declined her request. He felt it his duty to make sure she didn’t get any worse than she was. She kept insisting and he continued to say ‘no’. To make sure she got home okay and that her stomach wouldn’t get upset, he gave her a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream. The other bartender on duty laughed at his gesture and asked him why of all things to give the lass, he’d give her that? Clueless as to his colleagues comment, he questioned himself and investigated the bottle of Bailey’s and realized that it has 17% alcohol. Stronger than any beer or wine he could have poured her”.
His reasoning was that when he and his brothers were younger, and their stomachs didn’t feel so well, their mother would give them a wee bit of Bailey’s. He always thought it to be medicinal. We, of course, had a good laugh.
Legend has it that Saint Patrick, who was actually of Scottish descent, became the patron saint of the Ireland because he drove the snakes out of the country (which may be a stretch as the climate is way too chilly for snakes). We like to think that corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish meal, it isn’t.
I can go on and on, but one thing is assured, and that is great Irish storytelling brought these folklore and many others into the realm of belief. My guess is, that a lot of these stories were fueled by something called Guinness.
I told you nobody does “dark” like the Irish. Slainte!
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