An Evening at the Harcourt

When we hit Dublin, it was still raining from the year before. The pastel gray Liffey blended with the faded gray alleyways peppered with foggy people in wrinkled long coats and proficiently ducked heads. Umbrellas were on every street corner. No frowns on crowded O’Connell Street. Hard to tell what evil lurks behind the walls of nearby Dublin Castle, for centuries a symbol of British control.

“The weather here has only been like this since about 300 AD said Richard Kelly, the same man who at the Harcourt bar assured us that the Dublin City Ramblers would perform at nine, ten o’clock at the very latest.

“It’s a week night and the people of Dublin have to work in the morning,” he smiled, embracing a Paddys. “Besides, by Irish law the pubs must shut their doors and half past ten.”

We had only arrived that afternoon, after a groggy trip from Denver. The only thing less appetizing than airline food is airline sleep.

“What do you mean you don’t have Cork Gin? What kind of airline is this anyway?”

The taxi ride to Tavistock in Ranelagh was an eye opener as our driver, Brian, covered 2500 years in about 15 kilometers.

“That’s the General Post Office and the Ha’Penny Bridge. There is Steven’s Green and Trinity College, and over there is the eternal flame to the famine victims.”

Everywhere people hurried about, a Saxon city, a Viking city, a Norman city, the Pale…now back in the hands of the ancestors of Repeal, forced emigration, landlordism. The survivors of a terrible potato famine, slow murder by unofficial Parliamentary decree. A place on the landscape.

But we were here to drink pints of Guinness, not dwell on the pains of my ancestors. (“No, I’m not here to find my roots…I’m here to find a good seafood restaurant.”) We stepped into a three-story pub off Parnell Road. We had been coached by the wise…the Dooleys, the Walshes, the Sullivans, the Healy’s.

“When you’re in Ireland and you’re thirsty, step up to the barman and simply ask for a pint,” they had told us. “You don’t need to say a pint of what. They will know what you’re after, and they will appreciate your knowledge of local custom.

We stood at the bar and were greeted by a redheaded colleen who could have been the Young Ireland poster girl.

“What’ll ya have?” she asked.

 “Two pints,” I answered as Tuatha De’ Danainn might have done.

“Of what? was her curt response. It turned out she was an American student, unfamiliar with drinking manners and, as it turned out, much of the noted social curriculum at all.

“Did ye rent the hair too?” Slight disappointment overcome with the arrival of the dark stout. Where is The Gingerman, Sebastian Dangerfield, when we need him?

“Maybe a nap would put us in league with Dublin’s lovely night life,” someone suggested.

By now it was approaching seven and already dark on the shores of the Irish Sea. Strolling with the flow along Grafton we came upon the Harcourt and a sign in the window: “Tonight: The Dublin City Ramblers. What good fortune. These people put on one hell of a show. I saw them in Boston some years back. What a fitting arrival to Dublin’s fair city.

We walked into the bar and were greeted by soccer on the big screen, (they call the game soccer here so as not to be confused with Irish football, hurling, rugby, or even horse racing, which, along with swilling the Product, makes up the recreational side of this culture.) The pub was full of men in suits who forgot to come home from work that evening. My beautiful companion began receiving offers of marriage right there at the bar.

“I don’t usually do this but in your case I will have to make an exception…”

Then the first of many pints arrived at my thirsty elbow. I acknowledged the gift, raising my glass in the direction of my benefactors.

“My name is Richard,” said the big man to my right, “and this is my mate, Tommy.”

We exchanged the basics, marinated in room temperature Guinness. The duo, with their British accents assured us that the band would begin any moment now. It was 8:30 and the pubs had to close and all.

As it turns out Richard and Tommy were in the British Army together during the 1970 Troubles in Ulster. Both were the off-spring of Irish parents who fled the starvation economics of their own country for better conditions abroad, in this case Liverpool. When the two were old enough the army looked to be the best prospect and they joined. Both volunteered for duty in Derry, a decision that continued to haunt them. Now both lived in Dublin.

“It all makes little sense,” I offered, “to hear you scream Some Say the Devil is Dead with a cockney accent.

As a gentlemen in Rosscarbery would later explain it: “Layers, laddie, layers.”

Finally, the band arrived on the stage and played until about 2 am punctuating their rowdy performance with the Irish National Anthem. A Nation Once Again. The two of us got lost by the Grand Canal, going home. It was still raining.

“The Canadians are attacking! Run for your life!”

– Mr. Hat in the film South Park

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