On Sunday afternoon, following my chat with the singular garbageman (doesn’t that sound like a Sherlock Holmes story? ‘The Case of the Singular Garbageman’), I walked along to the Cathedral and past there to the University of Galway, then back around towards the Old Spanish Arch, a relic of a visit of Columbus in 1477, or so they believe. I rattled around here and there until just on 2pm, when I had read that there would be a traditional music session in one of the bars along what you might call the main drag.
There are several bars, of course – more like many, really – but two of the better known in the pedestrian town center are just about right across from each other: Taaffe’s and Tig Coili. I’ll post a photo of each presently if I can find a good one on Flickr. So it was Tig Coili that had the session at 2pm, and Taaffe’s had one going at 5pm … based on my experience the previous day, when I had popped into Tig Coili just at the tail end of a session which had lasted about an hour or 90 minutes all told, I figured I might go from one to the other. One of my high priorities on this trip was to hear some live traditional music and I hadn’t managed to do so yet, so I felt I had some time to make up. I stuck my head in to confirm that there really would be someone playing, and also got some tips from the bartender on where to grab something to eat; I’ve not been training for afternoons spent drinking, particularly with no lunch, and I don’t like hangovers during the day (even worse when they are the result of one measly pint! pathetic). So, I nipped around the corner to the crepe man, who was very pleasant, and whose son (about 8 or 10, I think) peppered me with questions, my favorite of which was: Can you tell me any words in American? On short notice the best I could come up with was boot/trunk and vacation/holidays.
Went back into the bar (by now it’s about 2:15) and snagged a barstool just at the turn, which is a good place to be as you then have something to anchor yourself to, if it becomes necessary. The musicians started around 2:30 (‘You know how musicians are,’ said the bartender, ‘they just show up when they like and they start when they please.’) … and at 6:45 I left.
I kept thinking to myself, well, I’ll leave when they finish, it’s just too good to leave before that, and they just kept playing and playing, until nearly 6:30. Outside it rained and rained, and it was chilly, but in the bar it was quite pleasant. And so I sat there, for a long time, and enjoyed myself immensely, doing nothing really. I paid for not one drink, the whole long afternoon:
- First, a pint of Bullmer’s, an Irish cider, bought by a big, cheery gentleman two seats down in the bar (missing both his front teeth; I’m guessing rugby) who never really said two words to me, just smiled a lot and occasionally winked when something transpired which merited a wink;
- Second, a bottle of some other kind of cider – Swedish, I think, and not unpleasant but rather light and sweet for the weather … it was one of those things where you make conversation with the bartender about cider, he shows you something and you wind up trying it, more out of an effort to be amiable than anything… anyway, the cider was bought by my next door neighbor, another big man whose name I can’t recall, but who I am thinking of as Bob. I don’t feel bad about not remembering his name because he told me he was terrible at names, and would definitely have forgotten mine by the next day. Though rather dour to start, and a man of few words in the best of situations as far as I could tell, Bob and I also covered the US and Ireland, spec. Galway (of course), the weather, Canada (his friend’s wife is Canadian), and Irish dance; all this in bibs and bobs, over a period of about three hours. Bob seemed convinced that the bartender had taken a shine to me (nice to know you can rely on something), and offered as evidence…
- A bottle of sparkling water (pacing myself, I was) tossed in gratis by Jason, the aforementioned bartender, who in his in-between moments (not many, it was pretty busy) pulled up to my end of the bar to chat. Further evidence offered by Bob of Jason’s preference included the fact that Jason told me his name (Bob had been there longer; no introductions for him), and, possibly most spuriously, that he (Jason) didn’t like him (Bob) because he (Bob) had bought me a drink. It was all rather droll, however it might sound here. If Bob were hoping for some other outcome from this gambit, it was unsuccessful. Jason’s commentary was a bit more free-flowing and substantive, probably a good thing for a barman (he is apparently also working on a degree in environmental science, whereas I got the impression Bob was not what you might call a university man), and he sort of reminded me of someone, but I’m not sure who – embarrassingly, a taller and bigger Bono comes to mind. I’m sure that comparison will come back to haunt me later. Maybe it was the pitch of his voice or his accent. I don’t know. Turns out Bob was right as the offer of a drink ‘later’ was slid across the table, as it were, but it was a bit vague (understandable, being that he was on duty at the time) and our paths didn’t cross again. I was sorry, because he was friendly and kind, and not pushy or creepy as bartenders often can be, especially to young ladies travelling unaccompanied; and he’d lived several places in Ireland and had a sister in Australia … seemed as if he’d have good stories;
- Fourth and fifth, two glasses (half pints) of Guinness, fronted by Michael, a perfect image of an elderly Irishman. I could have put him in my pocket: rather short, with red cheeks, white hair, and sporting a tie, sweater vest and coat, Michael took over the seat Bob had vacated. He was a foreman at the docks and used to bring in the big ships, 7-10 ton ships, although apparently those aren’t that big because there are other bigger ones which would have to anchor off-shore and be unloaded. Michael had several children, all of whom were engineers (good for them!); and we talked a bit about them, about the new drinking/driving limits in Ireland and how it’s led to many a country bar closing up, where to go in Mayo, and his relationship with Guinness (apparently they’ve got some loyal customer thing here where they send you a calendar that has a coupon for a free pint on every month). A single free pint a month was pretty funny to both of us. He also taught me some Gaelic — slainte, which you probably all have heard, it means ‘health’ and Go mbeire muid beo ar an am seo aris, which means ‘may we be alive this time next year’. I enjoyed talking to him immensely.
After I pried myself off the barstool, I went down the way to a restaurant Jason had described as ‘cheap and cheerful’ to get a bit of dinner, though after the Guinness I didn’t feel so hungry. At the door, there was a menu and myself and a man sort of arrived at the same time to investigate it. He was a bit older, greyish-white hair, and a full beard, and was after bacon and cabbage. There was no bacon and cabbage listed, but he went in anyway to inquire, and I went in to eat. It was a small place, with a funny L shaped table going around a corner, at which we were both sat … so we basically ended up eating together. Turns out his name was Nick, and he had been one of the musicians who’d just been playing at Tig Coili (I knew he looked familiar!) He was full of yarns, a real talker, and I think he needed an ear – perhaps four hours of talking was pent up from all that playing. He’d just had a drink with Ray Manzarek’s son (of Doors fame) … anyway, it was a trip. And then, when I got up to go (he was in no hurry, I got the feeling; the vast amount of beef in my stew made laying down ASAP imperative as total shutdown was imminent) he insisted on paying my bill. I have his address and I am supposed to send him a Christmas card.
What a day! Goodness. Just wait until you hear about Monday.