I had been on Irish soil for less than an hour before I wandered into my first official pub. Sure, I wanted to see the lush green hills, see castle ruins, and all that stuff that American tourists yearn for. However, in all my dreams of traveling to Ireland, at the top were dreams of slipping into some dark, cozy pub, ordering a pint, and sitting back to listen to the musical tones of the Irish in conversation. So that’s exactly what my first order of business was.
I was well along the way toward draining my first pint and ordering another when a fellow who looked like a poster child for Irish tourism sat down next to me. He had dark curly locks that fell in tiny ringlets across his brow, bright blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, a ready smile, and massive shoulders. “Donal, a pint!” he hollered to get the bartender’s attention. Then he turned his attention toward me, noticed that my glass was nearly empty and bellowed in Donal‘s direction. “Make it two!”
“Yar noo hare,” he stated matter-of-factly in an unmistakable Northern Irish accent. I was a little shy about making my Yankee-ness known, but there was no hiding it if this guy was going to speak directly to me. So, trying to deflect any barbs ahead of time, I said, “I am. I’m one of those annoying Yankees you’ve read so much about. I’ve come to invade Ireland, kiss a blarney stone, and then return to my cozy American life.”
My ale benefactor let out a hearty laugh and clapped me on the shoulder with a hand that felt like it was the size of an Easter ham. “Pleased t’make yer acquaintance. Name’s Jack.” “Ryan here,” I replied, shaking the massive hand he offered me. “And thanks so much for the pint.” “Nonsense! Y’need a proper start to yer holiday.” And that was how I met my first Irish friend just an hour off the plane from Logan Airport.
That wasn’t the last pint we shared, and it wasn’t long before Jack decided that I needed a “proper introduction” to Irish whisky. So we switched to that. Well, we didn’t switch so much as add it on to the increasing pint orders. In all my dreams of finding a cozy Irish pub, none of them stood up to how perfect this was. Jack and I shared an easy camaraderie, finding that we had similar backgrounds in literature and writing - except that I went for a fictionalized style and his was historical.
Before I was too drunk to remember, he shared a family story with me - a story that he‘d heard his grandfather tell many times. Apparently, Jack (huge as he was) was the runt of his family. His great grandfather Ian, he told me, had been 6’9”. According to Jack, he was a gentle giant. “Sure‘n why not? When yer very size is intimidating, y’don’t have need t’be an arsehole!“ Grandpa Ian had earned a living as so many Irish had, in the fishing industry. He had lived a relatively quiet, unremarkable life with his wife and 10 children. Jack told me that although the family had been provided for, with that many mouths there was never extra to go around.
Ian was killed during a storm at sea when a flying gaff came loose from his boat and struck him in the head. The family could barely afford a funeral, let alone a specially crafted casket that would be necessary to hold the big man’s body. So, they did the unthinkable. They lopped the man’s legs off at the knees and put dead Ian and his severed legs in a standard sized pine box. It was a scandal that rocked several counties. There was great debate over the sin of desecration and whether or not a church burial should be allowed. The family was applauded for their ingenuity by some and shunned for their audacity by others.
Jack insisted it was a true story, and I believed him. I’m sure of it because of the dreams I’ve had since. Dreams of digging up a grave, opening the box, and seeing the big man lying there, clutching his severed limbs to his chest. It’s a dream that makes me wake up laughing. I know that’s irreverent of me, but somehow it’s all mixed up with my first gloriously drunken night in Ireland. At some point late in the night, or maybe it was early in the morning, Jack and I stumbled back to his flat. I have a faint recollection of him insisting that no hotel would do for his new American friend.
That’s how I happened to wake up in a strange room, on a strange sofa, with a roaring hangover my first morning in Ireland. I heard Jack humming an old Van Morrison tune and smelled potatoes frying. The former made me smile, the latter made me swallow back bile before it got the best of me. I stood up and winced at the stabbing pain in my head, then slowly shuffled out to the kitchen.
Jack smiled and nodded toward a chair. As I sat down, he placed a bottle of aspirin and a mug of tea in front of me on the table. I put my head in my hands and said, “I hate to be such a Yankee, but do you have any coffee? I need coffee. Tea cannot cure a hangover.”
“Nonsense, Ryan. Drink it up with some of those aspirin. You’ll thank me in less than 10 minutes.”
My head was pounding too wildly for me to argue. I shook some aspirin out onto the table, picked up four of them and tossed them toward the back of my tongue, then took a big gulp of the tea and swallowed before my throat could protest. I felt my eyes shoot open wide as my chest burned. “Oh, bastard. You could have told me you put whisky in that!” “If I had, y’wouldna drunk it,” Jack replied with a grin. I shrugged as if to say, “when in Ireland…” and took another sip of his concoction, prepared this time for the heat of the whisky. I felt the icicles that had been piercing my skull melt away and my muscles started to feel a little closer to normal. I looked at Jack, standing there with the spatula in his hand and one eyebrow raised in question. I nodded, smiled, and said, “Thank you. Better.” With that, Jack turned back to the stove to tend the potatoes.
That was decades ago and is still on the top five list of one of the best times of my life. My son, Ian - yes, named for that legless giant - just graduated college and as a graduation gift, my wife and I are sending him to Ireland. He asked me if I had any pieces of advice that he should take with him on the trip.
“Just one bit,” I offered. “If a stranger offers to buy you a pint, don’t refuse."
*******************************************For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, stacy challenged me with "Tea cannot cure a hangover " and I challenged Caitlin Durkin with "The emotion covered her like a blanket, and it was suffocating."