Sunday, June 12, 2016

Raise a pint to the culture of Irish pubs

This is not about drinking. (Although, it is true what they say about a Guinness tasting different – and noticeably better – in Ireland than anywhere else.) 

What I'm talking about is how pubs in Ireland are not just bars, but are settings for storytelling, places for debate and all around good fun. And we have several bartenders and fellow patrons to thank for great conversations and recommendations.

For instance, Jason Spann and I stopped in O'Neill's Pub across Pearse Street from Trinity College. Morris, the proprietor, was the one who suggested hiking in Howth. Morris had run the pub for 42 years, and his family has owned it since 1911. That was so long ago that William Howard Taft was the U.S. president, all of Ireland was still under British rule and the Cubs hadn't won the World Series in three years.

Jason and I picked up some helpful sight-seeing tips from Morris while enjoying some Guinness.
A great way to enjoy a pint.
Then when we arrived in Galway on Ireland's west coast, five of us made our way to the An Pucan pub on the recommendation of a native. ("Pucan" is not a typo – even if Google says it is.) We happened to wander in when a duo of Irish musicians started up their set. What a treat.

One sang and played the guitar, the other played a host of instruments: the fiddle, the Irish bagpipes and Irish flutes.  

They did a mix of music, from classic Irish music ("Whiskey in the Jar") to jazz ("Summertime") to an Irish anthem that they said is sung at many sporting events. But none of the five of us could understand exactly what the lyrics were.

Later, in another twist of serendipity, I got us a bit off the path on our walk back to campus, which was about three miles (5 kilometers) from the downtown. We had turned onto the correct road to reach dorms but got turned around and instead of going right to where the dorms sit, we wandered left into an industrial park adjacent to the residential section of the campus. Finally, we stopped at the only building with lights on so that we could ask for directions. We got to talking with the nice gentleman who answered the door, and he told us he was working at a festival the next day at Athenry. And that was the song: "The Fields of Athenry."

Oh, and because we're in Galway, here's a clip of their rendition of "The Galway Girl." (It seems like a classic folk song, but is only 16 years old. It was written by American singer-songwriter Steve Earle.)

A "Pucan," by the way, is a particular kind of ship, similar to the better-known Galway Hooker (also a ship). The native boats are distinctive by their dark sails, which are either red or black. But it's plain why the pub owners decided to name the establishment after the lesser-known Pucan. Here's a picture of the one hanging in the Galway City Museum:

One more thing. And this is about drinking. I don't think I can order a Guinness when I return to America because it just won't taste the same. They told us at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin that Guinness has to be delivered with just the right amount of nitrogen among other things. And there's a certain way to pour it. And apparently doesn't travel well.

Yes, it might sound like a high-maintenance beer, but it's worth it. So, cheers!

Most of the group poses for a pre-tour photo-op under the Guinness Storehouse sign. (I couldn't get them centered under the sign. And remember, this was pre-tour – so they hadn't even had their complimentary pints yet.)

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