I'm always excited whenever Liz Curry takes a trip because I know that I will have an online album full of funny captions to look forward to upon her return. Here, she writes about her family's trip to Ireland last spring and their search for a pub that felt truly authentic.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a time for celebrating that patron saint of Ireland by meeting up with friends and drinking beer (or whiskey) until the room spins and then suddenly goes dark. We Americans allow ourselves one day each year for this kind of sanctioned revelry, but when I traveled to Ireland last spring, I expected to engage in it every night in the country’s notoriously ubiquitous pubs. Alas, my romanticized idea of the lively ale house—replete with traditional Irish band and beer sloshing from the townsfolks’ pints — was not so easily found. And once discovered, was much more staid than I’d imagined.
I, along with my boyfriend, parents, and sister, began our pub crawl in the Temple Bar section of Dublin (pictured left). An amateur mistake, perhaps, when searching out a true public house, but nonetheless, we were drawn into the Oliver St. John Gogarty, which promised us authentic Irish music. But, the first floor of this three-story bar was more frat party than congenial tavern. Over the pumping of the bass, we made out the faint sounds of a fiddle and a bodhrán. This drew us up the stairs, where we found the second floor packed with an unusual combination of college kids and white-haired couples.
On the small stage at the front of the room, an unsmiling man played the guitar and sang, while his teenage son switched between a myriad of instruments, from the flute to the whistle to the accordion. They were a talented duo, but the drunken shouts from the crowd, especially during the slower numbers, gradually enraged the vocalist to the point of explosion. At a few points during the hour we spent there, he singled out and scolded certain members of the audience and refused to play until the room settled down. The merriment was dampened, and we headed back to our hotel in a state of disillusionment.
But the next day, after a morning hike through Glendalough in Wicklow Mountains National Park, we drove down through east-central Ireland and happened upon The Meetings pub (pictured at top), 3 km north of the famous weaving town of Avoca. (We’d intended to tour the mill and shops at Avoca, but of course, arrived 10 minutes after they closed.)
The Meetings pub is named for the Meeting of the Waters located behind the inn (the Avonmore and the Avonbeg rivers meet to form the Avoca, pictured right). When we arrived that afternoon, the Sunday open music session was in full swing. Inside, the bar was quiet, but on the front patio, about 50 people sat around on folding chairs and at picnic tables. Pensioners and young couples with babies in tow talked quietly and watched attentively as their neighbors took the stage in turns to sing both classics and more modern ditties.
The stage, four feet off the ground and unequipped with stairs, caused mounting problems for some, but once on solid footing, the men and women sang heartily and without a trace of self-consciousness. A woman in her 60s belted out Danny Boy in an operatic soprano, and was followed by a man in his 50s who sang and hummed Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. The friends and neighbors of the performers watched in earnestness, and clapped firmly and politely at the end of each tune.
The electric guitar and bass accompaniments were not the traditional Irish music we expected, and the conviviality was more subdued than we envisioned, but this was a real pub and the authenticity was undeniable.