The night the little people took over O’Leary’s

By Pat O’Neill

     Straight away let it be said that Irishmen are often prone to hallucinations of mind and spirit.

     I know that, for certain, great grandpa came from Kerry and was well acquainted with lots of leprechauns and many a mermaid.

But I’ll be swearin’ to this tale that I’m about to tell. For, it really did happen. And I’m not one to be makin’ up drivel.

     It was just a week ago tonight that I was rousted out from under the cozy confines of my electric blanket by the post midnight rattle of the telephone.

     On the other end, talkin’ a mile a minute and in all the official language he could muster, was none other than himself, our local police chief.

     “Mr. O’Neill,” he said. “Upon checking the latch of your bar this evenin’ we did notice that you went off and left the lights blazin’ and the jukebox blastin’ one of those Irish songs you insist on botherin’ yer customers with.”

     Well, this was unsettling news, for, although I didn’t dare tell the chief this, I knew as sure as Harp has bubbles that I had doused the lights and unplugged the box when closin’ the joint just a few hours previous. So, keeping my wits about me, I assured the concerned cop that everything was fine and dandy, but that I would drive down to O’Leary’s and check things out my own self.

     Which is what I did.

     And upon arriving at the outer limits of the snoring little town of Parachute, all muffled by a soft layer of new snow, I ascertained that, sure enough, my old brick and boards pub was twinkling wide awake like a tree on the courthouse lawn at Christmas time. A curious thing, in the least. For just hours ago the last whiskey had been spilt and the last human fixture removed from a barstool and sent home to his mad wife and happy dreams.

     Now, it is not that I place any stock those old tales about pukas and banshees or boogiemen, but I thought it’d be to my benefit and safety to approach the old building with a degree of caution. And I did. I sneaked up on the back door with the car lights off and cased the place before doin’ anything rash.

     Just as the chief had said, the lights inside were shinin’ full tilt and the box was blastin’ a reel to beat the band. Takin’ a quick peek through the crack in the door I could see that there wasn’t a soul inside and that all that electricity was goin’ to waste.

     Now it’s not a brave man that I am, but one concerned about hefty bills from Public Service. And so I fit the key in the lock and pushed my way inside.

     The place was empty, spooky almost. The bottles shined in the light and the ghosts of my customers in hard hats seemed to wave at me from their assigned perches along the bar. And then I shut the door behind me.

     Laughter and Irish curses rolled over me then. Pipe smoke hung around the lights and small figures began taking shape in every chair and on every stool. Gartered bartenders standing on empty beer kegs were pouring draws and sloshing pitchers about behind the battered mahogany bar. The Wolfe Tones reel that I had been hearing before had changed to enchanted flutes and fiddles, the likes of which my ears had never before been blessed with.

     And I stood there with my keys in my hand and began counting in my head the number of Murphy’s that I’d allowed myself before goin’ to bed and concluded there was only two and that on Grandma Maggie’s grave I wasn’t drunk. Yet, the little people partying there around me paid me not so much as a random glance.

     There were fat roast beefs and platters of fried cabbage soaking in butter and sprinkled with sugar all about and a bottle of my best Tyrconnell on every table. Guinness was running from every spigot like faucet water. Faery queens in crimson velvet and capes of ermine flitted about the dance floor enraptured by the Irish airs being woven from the flutes and strings and bones of a faery band.

     At the biggest table a group of little men refilled their glasses and clapped time to a newly uncorked jig. They were fun-faced little gentlemen, dressed not as pretentiously as the women; in velvet derbies with matching vests and silken knee stockings.

     And, sure as I can’t doubt my own two eyes, there was Liam O’Leary, my great grandfather’s own arrogant leprechaun, sittin’ at the head of the table. On his right sat a sparkle-eyed old man who looked, like me, to be of the mortal persuasion. By the devil, he was familiar to me, too.

     But just then O’Leary eyeballed me standin’ with my feet stuck to the floor by the back door and in an instant the music stopped and the tiny revelers all froze in their tracks.

     Should I not have been caught so dumbstruck, I might have asked to see all their I.D.s.

     “Well O Danny be the divil, if it isn’t the martal bahrkeep, himself,” O’Leary said winkin’ to the old man on his right. “And I see ya got the invitation we sent ya, Pathrick.”

     Beaming at his sawed off cohorts Liam bragged. “What a grand party it is, too, if I do say so meself! Come over here, laddie, and sit by me and your grandfaether. Have a tumbler full of this bad beer.”

     Sure enough, that old fellow was my great granddad, himself, who promptly poured me a glass o’ golden lager beer which, when tasted, kicked magically like stout. This being done the party resumed and from then hence no one paid me any never mind. Except my handsome, gray-headed great grandfather, “Big Pat.”

     For a long enough time he merely rubbed my already tousled head and stared at my soul with his old politician eyes. Family stories had always held that “Big Pat” had had a way with the little people, that his Democratic oratory in the Pendergast precincts had been blessed with the butter of blarney because of his being held in good stead with the magic folks.

     I guess I already knew, even then, that the old man from his place in Heaven — or the furnace room, as the case might be —  had been keepin’ a close eye on me, his namesake, because O’Leary had told me as much on a previous occasion.

     The first time the obnoxious little imp appeared in front of me– long ago in a dimly lit college newsroom — he had blasted me in the name of my departed namesake for bein’ “phony Irish.,” for thinking that my heritage was a pitcher of green beer, not in centuries of suffering and English spit.

     That night grandpa didn’t have to say anything. I knew this was just another small reminder. I knew why I had been summoned the night the little people took over O’Leary’s.

     St. Paddy’s Day was coming soon. The bar, of course, would be done up in banners and plastic party hats. The Jameson and Murphy’s and Harp and Guinness would run like the Shannon. We would surely wax phony Irish to beat the band.

     The old man was in my bar that night to make sure I could still see through the green costumes, the cardboard cutouts and crinkly St. Pat’s hats and know that to be Irish was to be rich. That the people strong enough to have stayed on the “ould sod,” deserved more than a toast on March 17. They deserved a piece of my Irish heart and soul.

     The following morning I woke up on my front porch sharin’ a blanket with the dog, sifting through various excuses (for my wife) and explanations (for myself).

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