by H.St Vincent Beechey
I awoke from a night of troubled dreams that dissolved unremembered as I opened my eyes. It was early, my body was still on German time, and for a moment I wasn’t sure where I was. The ornate bedroom of the castle had been replaced by the pastel walls and modern furniture of a hotel. Already, though muted, there were the unmistakable sounds of an awakening city-Dublin. I heard the sound of a bell, clock or church, I could not tell.
I had a quick shower, and pulled on yesterday’s clothes; (I hate changing things from pocket to pocket, time for that later), I went down to breakfast. Bacon and eggs and toast awaited me, crispy bacon and eggs with large, rich yolks, what a change from the continent, I thought. My taxi driver had certainly found me a hotel that felt comfortable. That reminded me. I felt in my top pocket for the card he had given me. His name was Joe Riordan.
Back in my room, I rang his number. A woman answered and I asked for Joe.
‘Just a moment… Joe, ‘ she called, ‘Joe, it’s for you. How often have I told you not to leave this mobile contraption on the sink? It’ll fall in the water one day for sure. I think it’s Himself, the Australian gentleman you spoke of. Hurry up, I’m sure the dear man hasn’t got all day. He’ll not be a moment Sor.’ This last remark to me, with no change in volume.
‘Is it Yourself, Sor?’ the rich warm voice of Joe reminded me of his helpfulness of the previous evening. He readily agreed to pick me up at the hotel in twenty minutes. ‘And what would be your name? To ask for at the desk.’ He explained.
“Charlie, Charlie Quinn.”
‘A fine Irish name. Twenty minutes then’\
What a day that was! Joe picked me up at nine as promised, greeting me like a long lost friend. He seated me in his taxi.
‘And where would you like to begin Sor?’ His round face creased in a jovial grin.
‘You can start by calling me “Charlie”‘ I said, and I think this was the true beginning of a lasting friendship.
‘Right, Charlie,’ he beamed, ‘And where to now?’
“Let us find a quiet pub where we can discuss our plans for the day.’
‘A Quiet pub is it. A quiet pub in Dublin is a rarity, but there is wan. It is a closely kept secret. I’ll explain when we get there.’ And he deftly wove his way through the maze of one-way streets which is Dublin. He pulled into a quiet side street and parked his taxi in the side yard of an ancient public house which bore the sign “Tara’s Tomb”, a crudely drawn sepulchre.
‘It’s a joke, you see. Manny is the time that your man will promise his wife “I’ll go to the Grave before I touch another drop!” Well, it got to be a tradition to speak quietly here, like wan of them fine gentlemen’s club readin’ rooms, where it’s more than your life is worth to speak above a whisper. “As Silent as the Tomb,” we say. Manny is the quiet deal that takes place here.’
We entered a low ceilinged room furnished in heavy oak which echoed the dark panelling of the walls and bar. Joe nodded to a barman who silently produced two pint tankards and began the process of filling them with a rich black beer.
‘We will have to wait a wee while. Good porter cannot be hurried’ Joe observed. He spoke quietly in deference to the other occupants of the room, a man engrossed in a sporting newspaper, and a couple of businessmen conferring with their heads almost touching. Joe was right, this was a quiet pub.
The beer was black, with a rich creamy head on it that would put a cappuccino to shame. Joe explained the delay: “It has to be drawn slowly, otherwise you’d end with a pot of froth. But tell me now, is it not worth waitin’ for?’
‘Indeed it is.’ I agreed. ‘Now about the day. I’m not really your average tourist. How about you show me your Dublin. Show me the things you are proud of.’
It was the right thing to say. Joe’s eyes lit with enthusiasm and he almost waxed poetic. Whilst allowing that some folk might find historic buildings like Dublin Castle and Trinity College interesting, he maintained that the true culture of Dublin could be found in its pubs.
‘There’s six hundred pubs in the Greater Dublin area, give or take a few,’ he enthused, ‘and every wan is different. There’s singin’ pubs, and dancin’ pubs. There’s music pubs of all sorts, from Traditional Jazz to the good old songs of Ireland. There’s Talkin’ pubs and Rebel pubs and pubs for serious drinkin’. You name it Charlie and there’s a pub for it.’
He paused and looked thoughtful. ‘There’s wan thing though, if I may take the liberty. If you go in like a tourist, who knows what nonsense they’ll feed you.’ He thought for a moment. ‘How about I tell folk that you are a friend of the family and that you know my young brother in Melbourne. I can see you are the quiet observant type, just sit there unobtrusive like, and you will get a glimpse of the true Dublin.’
‘I’d be honoured,’ I said. ‘But tell me all about your brother, if I’m a friend of his I’ll have to know some details.’
‘Young Kevin is doin’ very nicely for himself. He’s in computers, y’know, and owns a fine house in a place called Moorabbin. He’s a lecturer now at a university. He always was the clever wan.’
‘Kevin Riordan? You’ll never believe this, Joe, but I do know him, or rather of him, I’ve met him a couple of times in the course of my business. I’m in computers too.’ And we looked at each other in amazement. ‘You are right, he is a clever one!’
That was the beginning of the Mother of all pub crawls. Somewhere along the way, we lost the taxi. I think Joe must have used his treasured mobile to phone his partner. With Joe as my mentor, I was well and truly accepted by all and I began to have an inkling of how Australian school drinking had come about. Surely some Dubliners had brought it with them during the Gold Rush.
I found myself telling Joe of my recent adventures, and of Bonnie’s perfidy. Joe’s rubicund face swam before my eyes as I said, possibly for the umpteenth time, ‘She never should’ve done it, Joe. She never should’ve said those things!’
‘She should not.’ Said Joe, and guided me back to the hotel. He took me to my room and poured me into my bed. I extracted a promise from him to pick me up in the morning. He was a treasure of a man. Surely my Good Samaritan.
© Copyright H.St V.Beechey August 1996
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