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An Irish Story
By Ulrike Gerbig
Monday, June 11, 2007
Rated "G" by the Author.
My love for the Emerald Isle is endless...
An Irish Story
Everybody who ever went to the beautiful Emerald Isle knows that talking there is not just the mere utterance of words for straight forward exchange of information, but much more.
Communicating with Irish people is a skill alien to many people who are not born and bred there and leaves many a traveler puzzled after just having asked for the way to Ballyvaughan. Little did he expect to be told half a life story of the person he asked, nor did he prepare himself to be informed about half of the inhabitants of this place - their foibles and fancies, or who married whom, when and why - nor did he calculate at least 30 minutes of his precious traveling time to get that valid piece of information he was looking for.
So he stands there somewhat impatiently, stepping from one foot on the other ( an infallible sign that he is not Irish) waiting for that flow of words to stop: a well of words he opened up by just asking a simple question.
When finally he gets back into his car, his ears and his mind droning, he tries to filter out the mere facts necessary for his journey and follows the description the Irish person gave him.
Phrases like "go straight ahead around the corner" seem to him like an ancient Celtic riddle, so alien to his non-Irish mind that either he decides that it is no wonder the Irish needed the Brits to organize their country for so long or he humbly admits that there is some true magic in the working of an Irish mind - because, after all, the Irish never seem to lose their way (At least not by accident. We are not discussing the Irish ability to lose the way to practically any place on this planet, even their own home of 25 years, when something interesting comes up - like a couple of good pints and a chat with friends in the pub.)
Needless to say that our traveler will not necessarily find Ballyvaughan after this "ordeal" and mostly he will cuss the Irish, their imprecise descriptions and crazy road signs, for this failure. But no matter where his road takes him after this, he will find magically beautiful places he never would have thought worth seeing - and maybe, if he has some tiny bit of Irishness in him - he will realize that he has been dealt one of those priceless Irish wisdoms, namely that it does not really matter where the road takes you as long as you enjoy the ride.
But anyway, I seem to have developed some Irishness in myself over the years, because I seem to lose my way through what I actually wanted to tell here, but I will try to get back on track now!
Our cottage in County Clare is looked after by an Irish couple who lives a few minutes down the road. Margaret and P.J. are about 60. She does the laundry and he is there to repair small damages done by German guests who do not know how to work an Irish cottage and to mow the lawn behind the house.
At least the latter was the reason he gave when appearing suddenly on a beautiful summer's day some summers ago.
It was our first time at the cottage and it could have been his inbred curiosity that made him come over much more than the steadily growing grass in our backyard.
Anyway, me, already knowing something about Irish hospitality, did not only say "hello", but put the kettle on and offered him some tea and a smoke.
Meanwhile he got the lawn mower out and started using it, but only until I came out with the tea. Then he took his first break - standing there in the sun, his weather-beaten face a perpetual smile and asking the odd question "Is that your first time in Ireland?". Since it was not, we quickly found our way into the bantering style of conversation the Irish love so much and by that tested the ground for further communication.
P.J. must have found me worthy of his time and his words, or it might have been the fact that his wife loved him dearly and because of that was worried about him after having had his 3rd bypass and did not want him to smoke and drink, but one could do that at our house - anyway, P.J. did not mow the lawn much that day, but after pretending to do so for a while settled down at a table in our back garden with me by his side and a pint of Guinness in front of him and started talking with me. (But not after making me swear that I would never ever tell Margaret about his drinking - and I of course made that promise - only to find Margaret saying to me "And, did he drink and smoke when he was at your place?" next time I saw her.)
It will be impossible to record the conversation that followed on that sunny afternoon and lasted for about 3 hours. We easily covered the ground between the European question and Irish history, the question of emigration, the prizes of tea and tobacco, the weather, love and the death of infants, the state of the world and life in general.
P.J. did most of the talking and I just enjoyed the ride he took me on: his words leading me through the Irish soul and mind to places I would not have been able to enter if not for his words and his trust.
At one point, I guess when we were talking about love in general, we came to talk about weddings and how they were celebrated in both our countries. I said, I liked weddings a lot: one of the few occasions where family and friends of a couple meet and spent a day together - two different kinds of families and two different kinds of friends and all the emotional explosives included in that package and the fact, that weddings always seem to end with everybody sodden with drink and making friends with or even love to people they would usually not even talk to and bride and groom being completely exasperated by the unforeseen orgy developing in front of their very eyes (at least that are the weddings I like best!).
We both agreed on weddings being good fun, but P.J. said "You know, weddings are fun, but funerals are even better!", being dead serious about it and taking me to a new plain of the Irish way of viewing the world.
He then initiated me into the concept of the wake (since then I have the deep wish that if I die one day, and we all know we will at some point or other, I would like to die in Ireland or at least being mourned the Irish way - I will write it into my will - I promise!!!) and told me the story I wanted to tell here now for quite a while (but I seem to get distracted along the way...)
He told me about a friend of his who had died a while ago at the age of 75. He was from Ennistymon and was laid out there in a funeral home.
P.J. went there to pay his last tribute and sure enough he met some friends who were doing the same.
While standing next to the body the men discussed the dead person, his life and his foibles and fancies: "He really liked his drink, didn't he?", one of the people present allegedly said and that made them all remember that Vaughan's Pub in Killfanora was the place on this planet where the deceased felt most at home and out of respect for him ( at least that was the reason given by P.J. - and I tend to believe him ;-) ), they decided that their old friend deserved one last visit to the pub, before going to his grave.
For lack of other means of transport, somebody fetched a tractor with a trailer (mind you - that is rural Ireland!) and the whole party of men took the dead body in his coffin to Vaughan's Pub, went in there, put the coffin down in front of the bar, had a few drinks on their deceased friend and took the coffin back to the funeral home afterwards.
While being told that story I sat there wide-eyed and open-mouthed, not knowing if I just enjoyed that incredible story, enjoyed the lesson it told me or was finding myself in a scene from "Long live Ned Devine".
Shortly after that story P.J. was spent for the day, decided the 3 pints of Guinness had been enough and it was time to go home; the lawn still unmowed and my fantasy soaring from what I just heard.
That same evening my friend Manfred and me went to Vaughan's like most evenings. We still were full of that story - I had told Manfred what I just heard and he being a writer was completely enthralled.
The place had a new magic to it now and we both could not help but see the coffin in front of the bar and the old men bringing out a toast on their dead friend.
Sinead, the young waitress in Vaughan's, must have realized that we were somewhat absent minded that evening and asked what we had been up to during the day.
I could not tell her because for me the whole story still was as unbelievable as it was fascinating. But I asked her if she knew P.J. McNamarra and she said (and I am not making that up here!) "Oh, you mean P.J. who came in with some friends and a coffin the other day? Yes, sure I know him!" and that has to do as a verification of that incredible Irish story.
Postscript: A week later a friend of mine, an author from Northern Ireland, came to see us in our cottage. He asked what he had been up to over the last few days and of course we told him that story.
He looked at me shrewdly across the table and asked if I had really believed what I had heard. And I, by then, had enough Irishness in me to say "Who cares if it is true or not as long as it is a good story!" and we all agreed and spent the rest of the night creating some new and exciting Irish tales.
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|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|You write well, Ulrike. You intrigue me. Thank you. My ancestors are Celtic. Love to you,