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Tradding It in Ireland


The first time I heard traditional Irish music, Trad, was in Dublin: that fast pounding, free for all madness that can only take place after you put a tray of Bushmills into the musicians with much Guinness afterwards for beer backs.
I wouldn’t have found that out-of-the-way-pub too had it not been for the two English byrds from Sheffield I met up with that first night in-country: buying me drinks, giving me smokes, asking me to dance, fooling around in the corner, stumbling arm and arm down the street.
It was while at this pub that some bastard in the crowd thrusting a fist into the air in inebriated appreciation decided to have a seizure by the stage and make people run and crush us up against the bar.
My immediate reaction was to grab my Jameson’s and save it instead of running over to help the dude as the rest of the men did, and so that more than made up the minds of the two ladies I had been slobbering over that I was indeed nothing more than the drunkard they suspected I was all along.

Galway Bay with a hangover

But fuck it; at least I got free drinks, and that is something that no way happens to me back in The States.
Thus, my first “Trad” experience was abruptly halted. A few days later though, in Galway-a fishing village on the west coast of the island-is where I had my next and truest exposure to the music of the old sod.
Galway is a mini-Dublin, an incredibly compact area of pubs, clubs, and restaurants centered on Quay Street, and when seeking out the Trad you hear the name Monroe’s batted around town.
A four minute walk out of town, across a bridge laid out over an icy river barreling its way to the Atlantic Ocean only a ½ mile to your left will get you there.
Warm, dark wood greets you as you enter. It’s crowded. Wednesday. They’re supposed to have an exceptional group play and everybody knows it. A makeshift stage is set up; surrounding that are tables. It’s past eight, already late for drinking since most people start at six because as you know these places close by midnight.
The crowd is mostly locals. I do, however, spot two girls from the hostel back in town but I pretend not to notice them. This is a “Jim-Night”. Contrary to popular belief traveling solo is not lonely.
So many people, mostly women, want to hook up, and it doesn’t matter where you’re headed, they just invite themselves. Which is cool, but other times you want some solitude, to get drunk, hit on the village women…
I’m lucky enough to get a seat at the bar, offers a great view of the room. I order up a double Jameson neat and a Carlsberg.
Drinks in hand, I survey the crowd, trying to make eye contact with the distant Irish girls and getting scant smiles in return because they’re with their boyfriends already. Dammit.
An older man then walks in, mid-fifties, and he immediately stands out because few here are over 30. He’s wearing The Irish Cap, work trousers, denim shirt, heavy coat, mucky boots, and a pair of work gloves stick out of his pocket.
The man’s just out of work and he’s popped in to have a drink before he drags himself home. Probably works a boat at the docks across the way.
He squeezes in and says to The Boy behind the bar, “Pint.”
When an Irishman utters the word pint in a pub he doesn’t have to say of what. People know it’s a Guinness. He glances at me, looks away, gives full attention to his drink.
I wonder how this man feels. What does he think of the youth that is devouring his Ireland? The average age of a person living in Dublin is 25. Where are all the old people? Old, Christ, even I’m too old, apparently, to be here and I’m all of 33.
The place is crawling with them. The office workers, tour outfit operators, shop owners, bankers, they all look like fuckin’ kids in this country. How does that man feel to be useless? Does he care? Do the youth here seek wisdom from him, as do the Asian and Latino cultures of their own ancients?
At that point an elderly man stumbles in and he looks bad, the walking fucking dead type of bad. Toothless, grizzled, scrawny, a sagging sack of crumbling bones but with a bounce in his step. He twirls about the floor, trying to groove to some old CCR, his arms flailing in the air, wanting attention; drunk.
He’s mumbling as he makes his way to the bar and at the same time some German pushes his way in next to me and orders a pint.
The Boy sets the pint on the bar but while the German is getting the silver out of his money belt, that allows time for that old bastard to leap between us, snatch the freshly poured brew off the bar, and immediately begin to chug.
The Boy behind the counter shouts, “HEY YOU FUCKIN’ CUNT! TOM, GET OUT HERE! TOM!” And suddenly some brawny, thick neck sonofabitch comes flying out from behind the bar along with The Boy, and both charge the old man. Who turns away, starts cradling the pint like it’s a baby and he’s screeching, “MY BEER! MY BEER!”
Tom reaches him first and grabs for the glass but the old man won’t give and so both start playing pull & tug on the floor, shuffling across the room, the old man actually dragging ‘ol Tom, and then both fall, hard, spilling onto the ground, taking a table and chairs and coats and purses with them, with Tom collapsing onto the old man and the old man barks and spits, and Tom starts to slug at the old man’s side, at his ribs, and he’s hollering, “GIVE IT UP NOW! GIVE IT UPYOU FUCKING OLD PISSER!”
And each time he slams a fist home the old man cries, “MY BEER! MY BEER!”
Their hands still latched onto the glass, beer splashing all over the place, The Boy dancing around them like a referee at a wrestling match, and what are the people doing? Half don’t give a fuck and the other half are looking on with indifferent curiosity. <!–page–>
Me? Protect the drink is my priority, so the first thing I did was grab my Carlsberg and whiskey off the bar and bring it to my chest. Sorta like the old man down there. The only difference being I paid for mine.
It’s not like I’ve never seen a man 86’d before, or haven’t been in the middle of a bar fight, but goddamn, this is the first time I’ve seen two bartenders not even 20-years old beating on a senior citizen.
Suddenly then, The Boy decides to get his two cents in so he offers a kick to the backside of the old man and the glass goes flying.
Tom and The Boy hoist up the old man by his shrunken shoulders and march him to the exit, scraping his kicking feet on the floor. “IT’S MY BEER!” he’s shouting. “IT’S MY BEER!” But by this time it’s almost incomprehensible, a mad man’s ravings.
They reach the door, The Boy angrily swings it open, and Tom easily chucks the old man onto a rain-slicked pavement. Tom and The Boy then get on either side of the old man, and fire off kicks to his ribs, legs, and several to his crotch for good measure. The lads then step back into the pub, leaving the old man a wet mess on the ground.
The Boy hops back over the bar, Tom disappears into the kitchen, and The Boy says to the stunned German, not breathing hard, not sweating, “Let me get you another one now. No worries, mate! That’ll be two quid-fifty.”
The crowd returns to its original stupor and the band, which I guess set up while all this was going on, is ready to go. I need to order more drinks, and, by the time I get them the place is standing room only. It’s time for the tunes.
And Good God they crank. I hadn’t eaten since lunch so the alcohol shoots to my head and I’m swimming. I think there were five: four men and one woman. Early 30s.  Jeans, shirt, boots. Coach’s jackets tied around their waists like the rest of Great Britain.
Without hesitation they launch into a booze-induced rendition of I don’t know what but it’s played with such energy, such ferocity, such vengeance, that the sound of a few fiddles, a guitar, and a huge bodhran-a flat drum instrument-that it grabs you by the balls and takes you for a blistering ride.
The crowd is seething, for as the troupe plays they stomp their feet, bang the chairs, and slam their glasses on the tables and bar tops in unison.
I sway on my seat, head bobbing up and down, eyes closed, hands at my sides, looking like I’m chanting a mantra. Moaning. Such pleasure. Such passion in the play, and it’s getting faster and faster, the drumming, the strings, the clapping along. I’ve never heard anything like it before. No plug-ins, no amps, no electric anything, and the joint is jumping.
I must order more whiskey.
It’s tough to convey on paper what music sounds like, but you must know that it’s always the beat that drives most music; does it push you somewhere?
I want to explode. My body is quaking. I feel goddamn primitive!
After a 15-minute clip they shut it off, and a roar and pounding of the tables erupts. The music is a banshee’s wail, a gathering of the old Celtic tribes around the fire, imbibing on nature’s nectar and a conjuring up of nefarious rituals: bodies writhing, visions blurred, lunar howling.
God don’t let this end. I don’t want to go back! I don’t want to go back!
More whiskey and beer helps facilitate the process as they on stage suck back pints, then, wordless, fall right back into another of what they just played but, unbelievably, even faster this time.
I notice the dockworker next to me, working his second pint, and he’s smiling in my direction. Oh Christ, he sees I’m drunk and the old fag’s gonna make a pass at the American. I try to ignore him, keep cheering on the lads, but he approaches me.
“Where does…” and his voice gets caught in the sounds filling the room.
“WHAT?!” I shout back, slurred, disoriented.
“I say, where does your blood come from? Your daddy? Is he Irish?”
“Los Angeles.”
“Then his da perhaps?”
“Mexico. Why?”
“Well,” he grins, puts a hand on my shoulder. “You got the Trad flowing through you, son. Never seen a foreigner take to the music before, let it inside you like that.”
“I’m drunk!”
“More to it than that.”
“No, really.”
“Most tourists, even the West Brits, clap and holler and take their pictures. It’s just another site on the tour for them. But you, I see you and the Trad are pals. Good for you!” He slaps me on the shoulder.
“Well, yeah, I…”
“All right now, have a splendid evening,” and he fades into the crowd and disappears.<!–page–>
Interesting. I’m the brownest man in the joint, and he still asks if I’m of the blood. At some pub in town a couple of nights ago another dude came up to me at the bar where I was drunk on whiskey and cigarettes, and asked, “Are you from Dublin?”
Now this old man here. Hmmm. Maybe I’m an Irishman in Mexican-American clothing. Ok, time to piss…
I’m at the urinal while another patron of the musical arts staggers in and falls against his porcelain confessional. He looks at me; all cigarette ash dangling from a bloated and sweaty face-and this guy has black hair, brown eyes, tan skin-and he mumbles, “DASSOMEMIGHTYFINECRAIC!”
“What the fuck did you say, man?”
“DASSOMEMIGHTYFINEFINECRAIC!”
“Fuck yes!”
He grunts, zips up, pushes off.
I think he said That’s Some Mighty Fine Craic! But he said it in a dialect not usually reserved for the barbarian. Was he so fucked up he couldn’t see that I wasn’t Irish?
The English, Scottish, and Irish all speak English, yes, but they have two versions of it: one for the tourists, or backpacker-two distinct variations of peoples right there-and the other for themselves. Only a person from their region could possibly understand any of their abbreviated speech patterns, words and sounds mashed together, or any other twisted combination of cultural gibberish.
Try eavesdropping on a conversation during a relaxed afternoon at a pub. Listen to the lads at the bar, then, go up and ask for directions, and they can switch over instantly. Amazing…
All right, so I’m an honorary Islander. I order up again and from my seat at the bar now I look out the window. I see the old man they wrecked what seemed like hours ago. He’s peering in. His thin hair matted over a soaked head. Left eye swollen shut. Red welts cover his face.
It’s really coming down out there. He could be crying, but no, I shake that off, it has to be the rain flooding over the windowpane. I think he even makes eye contact with me, motions over at the door as if to say, let me back in. I shake that off too.
People pass him as they enter but pay him no mind, and for one second I almost go to comfort him, to offer a few pounds, hell, give him my pint if it means that much to him. But fuck him, you know?
I wish I could be nicer.
And the band plays on, power driving my head into another dimension, my arms flailing about the air, me not letting go, never letting go. I can see myself floating about the room, making a fool of myself, almost fitting in, not caring, riding on the tail of a shooting star…

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