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Upsetting the Irish


It all started with “weh”.  That harmless somewhat nasally emitted phrase nearly led to an international incident.

Walking into our usual pub in Dingle, Ireland, “The Small Bridge”; Phil, Drew, Ben and I grabbed our pints of Guiness and Harp and situated ourselves so we could hear the anticipated music of the night.  All four of us had been laughing and joking throughout the day so our spirits were high.  That night the music was to be played by Owen on the Irish Pipes, which is the Irish version of the Scottish pipes.  Go figure.

Seated at the bar was a beautiful blonde haired girl.  Unbeknownst to her her hair and striking looks triggered Ben and I’s attention.  I looked at Ben who was wearing a big smile on his face acknowledging her as well.  With eye brows raised and teeth glowing he said, “Weh?”

The history of “weh” is nearly as varied as its usage.  “Weh” can be utilized as an acknowledgment, a question, a statement, or nearly any other situation where one is too lazy or intellectually inept to use common vernacular.  One’s tone of voice can be raised or dropped to indicate a question or statement, which likens it to the tonal languages of Papa New Guinea or African Congolese.  In certain instances it is used to denote emotion such as pleasure or shame (i.e. when one’s long drawn out joke fails to aquire a humorous reaction from its audience.)  Though its history is uncertain researchers have verified that it differs from these tonal languages in that it is used by those of lower intellect as proven by the following story.

In this instance it was used to point out an attractive woman.  Drew nor Phil had ever heard such an expression so Ben and I explained “weh”.  After a thorough and thought provoking explanation we also explained the use of the Radar/Clock system.  If you don’t know the Radar/Clock system is it probably best because more than likely this lack of knowledge would make you a woman and it is bad enough that I am divulging the top secret “Way of the Weh”.

With everone educated on this rather archaic form of communication we all agreed the young woman at the bar was indeed attractive and like a pack of gorillas knodded our approvals.  This whole time we were surrounded by what we thought were people as eager as we for a night of laughing, foot tapping, and pint pounding.

“What the fook is ‘weh’?”, came an angry question from behind me.

Okay, apparently not everyone was experiencing the same euphoria and harmony that we were.  Fully aware that this guy was “pissed” (to use the Irish colloquialism for drunk) I ignored him and continued to talk louder.

Once again with more angst, “What the fook’ is ‘weh’?!!”, he yelled over the din of people and conversation.

Our conversation stopped and all four of us looked at each other in surprise waiting so see what each other’s reactions would be.  Phil was paused with his pint half way to his lips looking at each of us intently, Drew was unaware and looking around enjoying the newly started music and Ben looked slightly worried but more confused as I was.  I raced for an answer that was humorous in an attempt to diffuse the situation.

“Weh is what we say when their is a pretty woman in the area.  It is our way of pointing her out covertly”, I said with a laugh and a smile.  I was trying to keep the conversation quiet as the focus of “weh” was directly on the other side of the drunken Irishman.  Oddly enough I was convinced I could juggle a drunk Irishman while holding onto the possibility of still meeting the pretty blonde haired woman.

“Who the fook is the pratty’ gurl?!” He responded.

I was convinced that this conversation would subside and we would go on our respective ways with the use of humor.  Oh, good old humor: at times the panacea to a dull or frightening moment while at other times it is the rag stuffed into the barrel of your rifle.

So I attempted a little levity.  “The pretty girl is Ben here!  He is quite a prize”, I said while patting Ben on the shoulder and laughing.  Apparently drunk Irishmen don’t find gay jokes funny.

“What the fook?!!  AHHH!”, and he turned away from us back towards the bar to retrieve a Guiness of which I can assume he had many.

“Frank”, he called to a nearby friend “we have a couple of fookin’ rednecks here!!”.  The rag in my rifle had done its dirty work.

Oh crap, the troops are going to rally and I am going to find myself in an Irish bar fight.  Quick, recall your Brazillian jiu-jitsu!  Damn, I quite after a month.  Useless!  I’ve got nothing.  Luckily Frank did not emerge, but the Irishman still persisted about “weh”.

“No, who the fook is the girl?!”  He questioned with authority.

Aware that a straight answer was necessary I pointed the girl out.  The music had started and I could hear the violinist and the illean pipes meld into a beautiful folk melody.  People around us were tapping their feet and yelling in approval of the music.  The relaxing music created a rather odd dichotomy with the impending doom of this drunkard’s angst filled tirade.

“How the fook do you plan on scaring wit’ he’ if ya don’ fookin’ talk to he’?!”, he said with a glare that was definitley looking through a few layers of Guiness.

I paused not knowing what to say because oddly enough the question held validity, but I responded, “My friend we are merely observing!  Merely observing!”

Apparently my response was less than adequate as he responded with, “Ah!  For fooks sake!”

Ignoring us for a bit his focus changed to the performers. I thought, “Good.  Keep watching buddy.”

The pipe player was just picking up his end of the folk song when I decided to ask him a question, “Isn’t the pipe player’s name Owen?”  He told me the man’s full name then followed up with, “Do ya’ know wha’ this song is abou’?”

“No,” I said.

“Of course ya’ wouldn’!  Ya’ don’t spek’ fookin’ Irish!”, he bellowed loudly, but with more mocking than anger.  “This is our fookin’ language! 
Our fookin’ cultua’!”

“And a beautiful culture it is,” I said with sincerity.  He fell into a momentary haze at this point.

I turned to Ben who’s eyes were big, but he was wearing his trademark smirk.  I can assume that he was somewhat worried as this guy had decided to latch onto me to unleash his patriotic fervor.

The Irishman turned away from me for a moment and focused on Drew thank goodness.  Drew was concentrating on this legendary pipesman, Owen, and not too concerned with what was going on.  Drew is a big fella’ at about 6 foot 2 inches and built like a large fire hydrant.  Physically able to handle almost anything and being a former member of the Dot Com era he was a savvy fellow as well.

What he did lack was the tact our hostel proprietor had instilled in us about pubs in the area.  We were told, “This area is a hot bed for the IRA, so never start trouble in a pub.”

The drunk Irishman leaned into the light towards Drew and said, “English is the language of traitors’!  Irish is the language of patriots!!”

“Oh, crap,” I thought.  When I heard this I instantly was reminded of the conversation with our hostel fellow.

Unfortunately Drew was unaware of this rather delicate situation and responded with feigned enthusiasm, “Yeah, I’ll be sure to write that one down sometime.”

This made the drunk rather enraged and he said, “Don’ fookin’ wri’ it dow’!!  Fookin’ remember it!”

My virgin ears were irreperably damaged by this time, but I struggled to continue listening to this vulgarity.

The tempo of the jig increased and the guitarist strummed harder now as the violinist drew her bow across the strings with increased fervor.  Our verbal assailant was now fully visible in the pub’s dim light.  Sporting short bright red hair, teeth out of place, with some of those missing, the lanky framed-wild-eyed-drunk Irishman turned back towards me.  Ignoring me for now he paused to listen to the music while I reached past him for another Guiness.

He leaned over towards Phil and asked where he was from.  Phil was born in Paris, lived in Vienna and schooled in the states.

“I was born in Paris,” he responded.
“Ah, Parles vou Francais?”, the Irishman retorted in a challenging tone that sounded almost instantly sober.

Surprised to hear this man speak another tongue than Drunken Tirade I contued to listen as they bantered back and forth in French.  The nameless Irishman challenging Phil to a battle of linguistics.

“Sprachen sie Deutsch?”, asked the Irishman in German.
“Ja,” responded Phil and they once again conversed in yet another language.

Another dynamic to our friend had emerged:  He was now a multi-lingual Irishman in German, English, Irish and French.  It would benefit an international terrorist to be multi-lingual and this made my imagination race even faster and this was supported by his next statement.

“That is Frank!”  He said emphatically pointing at a grey haired, pony tailed handsome fellow in his mid 50’s.

I knodded and he continued, “I take care of the GOOD GUYS!!  The GOOD GUYS! 
You know the GOOD GUYS?!”

I just knodded again following my assumption that the ‘Good Guys’ were the IRA.

“Frank has been in many wars”, he said.  “Vietnam, Gulf War, and a few others.”

Finally this guy and I were engaged in a somewhat civil conversation.  Civil defined by glaring, yelling, swearing, and the emission of spittle.  Oddly, I was thinking with excitement, “I am going to get my ass kicked by an IRA member!  Sweeet!”  I always say that if you are going to get your ass kicked you might as well make it memorable.

“Ya’ were nice ta’ me a’ firs’.  Then ya’ go’ sour on meh’!”  Apparently he was referring to our rather one sided dialogue.  I was a little confused as to how he came to that conclusion and considered arguing with him then decided otherwise.

“Ya’ no wha’ I mean?!”  I was determined to end this now with the danger of possible terrorist connections, and even more scary, a bar fight not in my hometown with a local, so I knodded with a look of deep reflection on my rude and insolent ways.

“Ya’ don’ piss on a man in his hometow’,” he warned me.

“Agreed!”, I said as Owen began a song about his brother who had left Dingle 17 years prior never to be heard from again.  The entire song was played accoustically on a flute and you could actually see the sorrow deep in his face.

To bury the hatchet I said, “How ’bout I buy us a round of shots?  Your choice!”

With a moment’s hesitation he responded, “Jameson!”

I agreed to the troubling elixir. With arms crossed he turned his head towards the bartender relaying something in Irish.  Two shots of Jameson appeared on the bar.  I gave him one and said the Irish ‘Cheers’, “Salongcha!”  Down the hatch the shot went.  I wished he would have chosen Jack Daniels.

After a few uneasy moments of listening to Owen play incredible tunes on pipes he leaned over and said, “I am personally inviting you next door when O’Connor’s closes down.  We can close the doors and drink all night!”

Not really believing him and not really wanting to drink all night I said my thank you and continued to listen to the music.  The tempo continued in a jig led by Owen’s flawless playing.  Being able to relax a little more now I concentrated on the guitarist’s hands as they turned into a blur strumming faster.  I lowered my head and let the music do its work.  Before I could completely immerse myself in it he tapped me on my shoulder again.

“I hav’ ta go’!”, he said over the music.
“So we aren’t going to the bar?!”, I responded
“Na’. We hav’ ta’ leave!  But remember this,” he said walking away pointing back at me. “Ya’ ar’ saf’ in moi’ town!  Ya’ ar’ saf’ in moi’ town!”  That was definitely loud enough for people to hear and I just shrugged and smiled at the onlookers.  I never saw him again thank goodness.

Now, I of course don’t know if he was an IRA member or just some drunken fool.  Further, maybe that conversation was the status quo for bar talk between friends in that area.  Okay, well I guess I can say it was definitely not the latter as every other Irish person I had met was extremely friendly to foreigners.  May I make a few suggestions to those visiting Ireland?  Don’t start a bar fight with anyone you suspect to be an IRA member.  Secondly, don’t start a bar fight period.  Lastly, never make a gay joke about your friend because the IRA member to your left may kick your ass for it.

That is all I have for now.  Check in next time as I will be offending Chiapas rebels in Central America or pissing off freedom fighters in Tibet!

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