I pulled my sweater tight as Joey and I walked the dark, narrow streets looking for a place to grab a pint. Thirty (or turty if you’re using the Irish accent) hours without sleep but I made it to Ireland: the first European country to call me in with its joviality, magic and fierce loyalty.
We passed the Kiely Bar and laughter exploded from inside. It was the sound that I had come for and it caught my fancy
like a faery to a fire ring. But shyness overtook me and we kept walking. I looked back at the laughing man painted on the side of the large brick building and felt a tug as my heart and soul wanted inside. The cold, wet wind blasted and a light rain fell as we circled the streets of Trim, County Meath. We came round again to the Kiely’s Bar and the mirth tumbled out as a couple exited and shouted back to the locals inside.
I didn’t hesitate this time but pushed open the door and entered the small pub where about five guys of varying ages stood at the bar. The crack of a pool game resounded from the back of the house. Joey ordered a Guinness for me and a Smithwicks for himself. I left for the toilet (Irish word for bathroom) – and delighted at how the aging floor dipped quite steeply – a taller person would have to be careful not to bash their head on the lintel.
When I returned to the bar, a behemoth of a guy had his arm slung over Joey, my quiet, mountain man. “Do you like to sing?” our new friend asked. I laughed.
“You’ll have to forgive my brother Mark here. I’m George,” A smaller version of the good Irish man leaned over to shake our hands. “Mark thinks it’s his job to make everyone feel welcomed to Ireland.”
“That’s right.” Mark grabbed the Smithwicks out of Joey’s hand, slammed it down on the bar and held up a full pint of Guinness. “Don’t care if you like it or not, mate. You’re drinking Guinness as long as you’re in Ireland. Not that fucking Smithwicks.” He stuck a cigarette in his mouth and waved at us to follow him with Joey’s new beer. “Come on then, I need a cigarette.”
Joey smiled at me and laughing we followed the pied piper with the Guinness in hand to a large outside patio. James with the pointy chin, hook nose and missing teeth where the perpetual cigarette dangled and Kilkenny Ed, a man with a genuine smile and honest eyes, joined us. For some strange reason the cigarette smoke didn’t bother me as we huddled around a bar table.
“It’s black going in,” Mark held up a beer for a toast. “And black coming out. Sláinte!”
“Sláinte!” We chorused the Irish salute to your health.
“Do you sing?” Mark asked again.
Joey shook his head no.
“You will,” Mark put a hand to his chest and belted out an Irish tune, more like a story and with his round face and open blue eyes, Mark became a modern-day, drunk, affable bard.
George beat his cigarette lighter against his beer glass as if it were a bodhran. “We used to have a shite band. But it was the craic!”
After a few more tunes and a lot more Guinness, paid for by the locals, we told the boys of our travels while in their country. “Ask anyone about Mark Watson when you get to Aran Islands and they’ll know him. And when you’re in Galway go to Mc Cambridges and ask for Tara, that’s Kilkenny Ed’s daughter.” Kilkenny Ed smiled broadly and said something in a strong accent I couldn’t understand but tried intently to decipher. “I love how she’s trying to understand, Ed. But not even I know what he’s saying most times,” George said affectionately to Joey. The Irish men had this respect for our relationship not often seen in America. “The Kilkenny cats wouldn’t fight with us, but we like Ed okay here. Everyone loves Ed. We’ll be highly insulted if you don’t say hello to his daughter.”
I wrote the information down on a napkin certain I wouldn’t remember the details in the morning. James wrote Souvenir from Kiely’s Bar, Trim on a napkin and handed it to me laughing. Kilkenny Ed recited his wisdom several times which I took down but still don’t know if I truly got it right: Always nice for nice, because you can’t take it and you can’t sell it, to a fault.
Mark grabbed hold of Joey’s long, goat-like beard and gave it a tug. “I’m not gay or anything, but I just had to do that. Come on now, what song will you sing with me?”
“Whiskey in the Jar!” I shouted. I had taken Joey to enough pubs and festivals stateside to know he had heard this song a few times.
Mark nodded and we all began to sing. Even Joey.
“What brought you all to Ireland?” George asked when the song was over.
“I came to meet you,” I replied.
Between me leaning forward and my eager brown, Bambi eyes as wide and round as a deep well, my answer may have been too much. Brothers Mark and George Watson brushed me off like I was a little crazy, and James shook his head. But Kilkenny Ed looked at me sideways with his bright blue eyes, mumbled something endearing I couldn’t make out, then he lifted me in a bear hug clear off my feet. And I knew he understood.