The Craic

Playin’ the trad.

Dear Friends,

At last report, Lib and I had met our cousin Mary and her partner, Alex, and were on our way to dinner. The restaurant was right on Galway Bay, and the boat used to catch our dinner was tied up in back. An enormous cheer erupted as we walked in the door. The Irish had been friendly most everywhere we went, but this was ridiculous! Then we remembered what day it was – the rugby game. Ireland had won for the first time in over 60 years!

The place was up for grabs. Little kids ran around underfoot while men and women from 20 to 80 raised their glasses to toast the Irish team. Smithwicks, Murphy’s, Guinness and the dreaded Heinekin were all in evidence.

Heinekin seemed to be everywhere in Ireland, and Lib and I couldn’t figure out why. With all the great ale houses in the country, why would they drink beer from Canada, or Germany or wherever? We debated the Heinekin country of origin on more than one occasion, but never bothered to find out for sure. We wanted to snag a Guinness coaster as a souvenir, but most of the pub coasters were from Heinekin. One place had Budweiser coasters! We took it as a personal affront whenever we saw one of their dreaded signs.

I’m not sure why this bothered us. I think we were tourist purists (say that 10 times fast). We wanted everything in the country to fit our preconceived, Hollywood-fed image of Ireland.

The dinner was enjoyable. The fish was excellent, and Alex and our cousin Mary are very interesting people. Mary was very appreciative of the gift Lib had brought.

With only 2 weeks left until our trip, I had casually asked Lib “Does mom have the old Corrigan family photos? Wouldn’t it be great if someone could make copies and put together an album as a gift for Mary?”

Considering that Lib was several blocks away from said photos at Mom & Dad’s house, and I was several states away, it didn’t take Einstein to figure out who that someone would be.

I laid it on thick. “You have such an eye” I gushed. “Your scrapbooks are works of art.”

I give Lib credit. She barely missed a beat before she volunteered for duty. Granted, I had an ulterior motive for the lavish praise, but it was also true. Lib DOES have an artistic eye, as well as a great writing style. Her scrapbook pages tell a little story about the subject photos.

She didn’t let me down. In the short time available, she rooted through mom & dad’s basement, found pictures of interest to Mary, scanned them, cleaned them up digitally, reprinted and put them all in an elegant album.

There was a wonderful picture of stern, old Terrence Corrigan, his wife and progeny all in front of their Utica farmhouse. There were also several pictures of a chubby-cheeked, cherubic me at my first communion. The older Detroit Corrigans were there, including our grandmother and both of Mary’s grandparents. I told her I remembered Johnny Nadon.

This is where we discovered they pronounce the name differently now. According to mom, and as far as I ever knew, it was NADon, accent on the first syllable. Mary pronounced it NaDON. When I remarked on the difference, she said some businessman ancestor had bastardized the French pronunciation to sound more English. I swallowed a snigger as I thought of that BBC comedy about the social climbing Bucket family who pronounced their name like Bouquet. I kept saying it NADon, more out of force of childhood habit than a deliberate stubbornness. Mary never corrected me, but she would reply with NaDON somewhere in the sentence.

Alex is from the Netherlands. He had come to Ireland on a vacation with his mother, met Mary and, as they say, the rest was history. I believe he was a physicist by training, but did something with computers in Ireland. I got the impression he was a bit younger than Mary, but they were a sweet couple.

After dinner we drove to their place for a nightcap. This time I volunteered to squeeze in behind Alex and Lib took the other side. We hurtled around hairpin turns through the Stygian night. Lib was fumbling furiously with her seat-belt as she hissed to me “I can’t get this damn thing buckled!” She was smiling wide for the rear-view mirror, not moving her lips as she whispered, doing her best imitation of the Tin Woodsman, pre-oilcan.

I reached over with difficulty to help her. Because Alex’s seat was all the way back, I was sitting with my knees spread about 3 feet wide and up around my ears. Think childbirth. “Congratulations, Mrs. Schulte, its a driver’s seat!”

“I know” I whispered back with an identical frozen smile, grateful for all those hours of practice with my Charlie McCarthy doll in 5th grade. “It sticks.” We got Lib buckled in and completed the journey to their farmhouse in relative safety.

Alex said what he most appreciated about Ireland was all the space. The Netherlands are very populous, the cities are big and there isn’t a lot of wide open space. He sure hit the jackpot with this home.

They rent a tidy, stone and stucco farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We stood out on their patio and marveled at the sky. There aren’t any big cities near them, and even Kinvarra was some miles away, so there was no competing glow on the horizon. They don’t have streetlights, either. Just stars. There were thousands, no millions, of stars. Layer upon deep layer of them, some piercingly bright, others so far away they were just faint pinpricks. We live out in the country so I’m used to stars, but I never before appreciated how three-dimensional the night sky could be.

Mary’s artwork is all around their home. She is very talented, and works in several media. There was a watercolor still life of a vase of flowers, an oil of the Burren, and some abstract pieces. They have a large kitchen with 2 tables, and Mary gives art lessons there. She also sells some of her pieces.

Alex poured a shot of Jamison’s for each of us (what else?), and we toasted one another and our common ancestors. The whiskey burned as we swallowed, tiny sips.

Mary was something of a storyteller. She is divorced, and has a 25 year old son. She lived in Grosse Pointe, outside of Detroit, and always loved to travel. She really felt a kinship with Ireland so, when her very smart son went off to college about 8 years ago, she packed up and moved. How brave!

She was in the southeast of Ireland for a couple of years, then landed in Kinvarra in a very serendipitous fashion (there it is again!). But to hear her tell it, there were all sorts of signs and portends that preordained her final destination, so perhaps it was meant to be.

Mary said she felt an affinity with the Irish melding of ancient Celtic traditions and Catholicism. Made it seem less Roman, and more home-grown. She seems quite the bohemian, and Lib felt a sense of kindred spirits.

Although we were having a lovely time, it was past 10 and the pub was calling. Lib and I didn’t want to miss out on our our best chance for traditional music and craic.

According to one source, crack or craic is “fun, enjoyment, abandonment, or lighthearted mischief; often in the context of drinking or music”. Purists say it is an English word, not Gaelic, but the Irish have adopted it as their own and the pursuit of craic is a noble pastime. We intended to get some.

We headed back to Kinvarra and Mary and Alex took us to Connelly’s, their favorite pub. It had the added feature of being just a few blocks from our B&B, just in case Lib and I had to crawl home. The place was small, low-ceilinged and close quarters. It was crowded, and the mood in the place was jubilant, given the day’s rugby victory. Mary and Alex introduced us to several people whose names I immediately forgot, and we tried to push up closer to the musicians.

There were 3 guys sitting in the corner playing traditional music. They had what looked like a mandolin, a banjo and a squeeze-box type instrument, smaller than mom’s accordion. They played with their eyes closed, concentrating and seeming to know what to play without communicating with one another. It was great! I appreciated it even more after we snagged some low stools to sit on. I was wearing heels and, in addition to being overdressed, my feet were killing me.

Mary and Alex introduced us to several of their friends. One rather inebriated gentleman, Mile or something like, expounded at length on a number of topics – what was his name, Lib? He was average height, thin and losing his hair. Pouches under bloodshot, cynical, yet amused eyes attested to a familiarity with the bottle. He had lived in America for a while (is there anyone in Ireland who hasn’t been to Boston?). He had a decidedly socialist bent, and hadn’t anything flattering to say about President Bush. Global warming and a myriad of topics were tossed around. When my smile got a bit strained, he would back off and say something funny. He had consumed mass quantities of hard cider that evening, but wasn’t staggering or incoherent. I ordered a bottle of the cider, and the sweet taste was right up my alley. For about 1/2 a glass, after which I got sick of it. It comes in an almost quart-sized bottle, however, so I was stuck with it for the rest of the night. Another night of sobriety for Peg!

Actually, not to burst Lib’s image as a booze-hound, an image mostly fostered by me, I must admit that neither of us tied one on in the land of Guinness. I imagine the view from the ground when hugging a toilet is the same in an Irish pub as it is in an American bar, so we didn’t feel the need to check it out personally. We wanted to remember all the interesting people and experiences, and not our hangovers.

I made rather stilted conversation with another of Mary’s friends, Moira I believe. She was a plump, faded woman in her 50s who had come to Ireland from Wales years ago. She’d had a rather maverick lifestyle for such an outwardly mousy person. She and her husband chose to live off the land – very hippy. They had a little cottage and they raised sheep (surprise!) for wool and mutton, had goats for milk and grew their own crops. They even cut peat to heat the house. Now she was divorced and employed, and lived in town.

Mary had a headache, so she and Alex left us before midnight, with fond farewells all around. I had wrung all the awkward conversation I could out of Moira so I put on my coat, and Lib and I prepared to leave as well. I was a little disappointed, I admit, that the craic had been so elusive.

A group of about 6 women had come in 1/2 hour earlier and took noisy possession of the front of the bar. They were probably about 30 years old. My somewhat sodden new friend Mile said “the girls” were a fun group. “They don’t live around here but they get together every once in a while.” He pointed to one woman. “If you want to hear the Trad, Jenny’s the one.” The musicians had packed it up by now.

“Is she a professional musician?” I whispered back.

He shrugged “She can do it all – plays drums, sings, other instruments. She’s quite the sportswoman, too.”

I believed it. Jenny was solid, with muscled arms and white-blond hair. Her long, hawk-nosed face was reddened by the sun and wind. She looked like a throwback to the Viking invaders who had conquered Ireland long ago.

Pubs close at midnight in Ireland, so most of the patrons had left. Lib was talking to a redheaded woman and I was standing around with my coat on, ready to go, when Jenny started to sing. No self consciousness, no grandstanding, she just sang. It was a folk song about a boy who was leaving Ireland, leaving his sweetheart forever. She had a strong voice; not pretty, but compelling and true.

After the song, Lib and I applauded enthusiastically and the redhead told the rest of “the girls” that we were Americans. They were very friendly and welcoming and, as was true almost everywhere we went, excited about our new president.

“So, you must be thrilled you’ve got the Obama now.” Jenny gestured with her pint, smiling broadly. The others agreed enthusiastically.

I replied diplomatically, “I certainly hope he does a good job, and I wish him well. I’m reserving judgement until we see what he does.”

“But you must be happy to get rid of that Bush” she persevered.

“President Bush made some mistakes, but he had many fine qualities.” I answered primly. I sounded like a maiden aunt schoolteacher and I knew it. This wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

Jenny looked at me for a moment, then, with what I learned to be a characteristically wide smile said, “well, I guess we won’t talk about that.”

Another of the girls then started to sing a Broadway show tune – something from Oklahoma. She had a nice voice, but not as distinctive as Jenny. Others joined in, including Lib and I, but I am ashamed to admit I didn’t know all the words.

That happens all the time. A song will come on the radio, one I’ve known for 40 years, and I love to sing along. But when push comes to shove, I don’t really know all of the words. Very discouraging.

Then Jenny sang a rollicking traditional song and the few remaining patrons joined in. The bartender shushed us, saying his kids were sleeping upstairs. It wouldn’t be the last shushing.

The girls had spent the day canoeing. In the Atlantic Ocean. Well, Galway Bay, but still, it was impressive. One woman imitated our American accents, and did pretty well. Lib said I had a good Irish accent and, put on the spot, I gave it a try.

“Doesn’t she sound good?” Lib asked.

“No” they all replied, and everyone laughed.

The imitator was a teacher. She did a spot-on imitation of an American teenager, sprinkled liberally with “like”s. Lib and I talked to her, Jenny and the redhead the most. She said many Irish teenagers are deliberately trying to lose their accents, to talk like the people on MTV. She decried this intentional abandonment of their national identity. And for such a role model! We agreed wholeheartedly.

She said “I bet you think Ireland is like that movie Darby O’Gill and The Little People”.

I perked up. “I loved that movie! It’s one of my husband’s favorites! We always try to find it on TV around St. Patrick’s Day, but I haven’t seen it in years.”

Wrong answer, I surmised. Her lip curled. “It’s shite. You Americans all have that Lucky Charms image of Ireland.” They liked to tease us, but were welcoming and fun so it was all good.

Someone started a Kermit the Frog song from the Muppet Movie – not the Rainbow Connection one that I knew, but some obscure thing. Then Sesame Street songs. They knew all the words! Then the lone man left in the place, besides the barkeep, sang a very bluesy version of “Me and Bobby McGee”. We joined in at the chorus (once again I THOUGHT I knew this song, but didn’t). More landlord shushing ensued and we toned it down. It was humiliating that these Irish knew all the words to all these songs, and we didn’t!

Then Jenny turned to Lib and I. “Now its your turn. What are you going to sing?”

Showtime!

A hurried conference ensued. I wasn’t too worried about carrying a tune – Lib has a great voice, and I can get by. But what did we know all the words to? And we’d have to put aside our demure, public personas and “bring it”.

We decided on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and we laid on the schmaltz. Lib even added some harmony (I’ve always envied that talent). I won’t say there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when we were done, but we held up the honor of the Yanks quite nicely, thank you very much, and received a gratifying round of applause.

At about this time the innkeeper’s wife came down to announce “If ye wake up those sleepin’ kids, you’re going to have to take them home with ye!” Her husband called a cab for a few of the revelers, we took pictures and shuffled out the door, saying goodbye to the girls.

The guy who had sung the Janis Joplin song walked Lib and I to our B&B. Which was a good thing, because I was all turned around and would have headed out of town. I hadn’t noticed him before, but Lib had, and there seemed to be some chemistry between them. On the few blocks walk we learned he had also lived in America for a time and was an engineer. He was nice, rather cute, 40s and not drunk. All the major qualifications met. Too bad we didn’t have more time to pursue an acquaintance. We were stunned to discover it was almost 3am, and so Lib had to mark him down in the “what might have been” column. To bed we went.

Based on some of the things that were said, and unsaid, Lib and I figured we probably HAD ended up spending the evening with the Irish Lesbian League. But it was the most fun we’d had in Ireland. We’d finally had some of the craic!

Love,
Peg

We finally found the craic!

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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5 Responses to The Craic

  1. libbyrichart says:

    Love the CRAIC story!!

    Like

  2. Libby says:

    I wonder what happened to that Irish engineer… he WAS cute!! 🙂 And Jenny, the Viking Queen.

    Like

  3. Shannon says:

    Bravo! That was indeed a night of craic. I felt as if I was (longed to be) there. I must go find a beer now, though it’s not a Guinness, most likely a Mexican brew. I remember when Ireland won that rugby contest. I recall they celebrated it for weeks, maybe months afterward, really something.

    Like

  4. Emma says:

    I think Heineken comes from Holland 🙂
    Do you miss the craic?
    I love Darby O’ Gill. The banshee scared the crap out of me when I was a kid and I adore the song. “Oh, she’s my dear, my darlin’ one, her eyes are sparkling full of fun….”
    I lived in Galway when I did my Masters and worked in publishing there after. Whenever I could, I walked the promenade in Salthill.

    Like

  5. Pingback: We Go to Ireland | Peg-o-Leg's Ramblings

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