Saturday 26 January 2008

Sitting at the bar in Terry’s, just as I ever did and always will!


A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the bar in Terry’s, a fine pint of Guinness in front of me, outside a fierce storm raging and howling.
I’d just left the wake of a beautiful friend, and seeking refuge and comfort, headed straight for EJ Kings, Eejays, or, to this blow-in who feels a bit of an old-timer at this stage of things, Terry’s.
It’s not the best pub in the world. Neither cosy nor particularly atmospheric, Terry’s plays a massive and vital role in Clifden life, and represents many milestones of my own life in Ireland.
On a 1992 day laden with fierce August showers, Ingrid and I hitched a lift with a morose Italian golfer in a rental car, and I sat in the back and watched Connemara unfurl its beauty for the first time.
This was the place I had dreamed of all my life.
Fresh off the boat from France, I’d been working as a kitchen porter in Kinsale. Staring at my map of Ireland between shifts, my eyes were drawn every time to the same area, and fifteen years later, I am still profoundly moved by the sight of it.
We put up our tent in Leo’s hostel garden, and headed into town.
Into Terry’s.
That first night I met the All Ireland Champion, and two years later, when I moved to Connemara, he and my friend were neighbours in the Townland.
Over those years I sat at the bar in Terry’s a hundred times a week.
I sat at the bar in Terry’s for a coffee after doing the weekly shop.
I sat at the bar in Terry’s on miserable grey afternoons, trying to resist the temptation to stay and shoot the shit with the loud and amusing gaggle of artists and writers struggling through their own days.
Oh how it looked such fun to sit and talk of creative activities, but novels do not write themselves, and so I bade farewell and wondered at how and when they produced their work.
In 1994 I sat at the bar in Terry’s with my American fiancée, her sister and her friend, and when the following four years in California came to an unhappy end, I sat at the bar in Terry’s once more, almost to prove to myself that I was, truly, back in Ireland.
Surely I wouldn’t know anyone in there? After all, it was a midweek afternoon, and I had been away for so long.
And there she was, my friend, smiling and waving, having a cup of tea with her children. That was really the moment that our friendship started anew; fresh and lively and lovely. I miss her.
I sat at the bar in Terry’s back when Busker Brown’s was nought but a twinkle in Terry’s eyes. On a couple of occasions the man himself insisted that instead of hitching to Galway, I waited while he finished his business and then drove me to the city.
Fair play to you Terry. Thanks for the lifts.
Wandering the Clifden triangle you’ll enjoy a rich and varied collection of classic Irish pubs, more authentic and desirable in many ways than Terry’s. Could there be a better place to watch a game on a winter’s night than Griffins? A summer’s evening in Malarkey’s or a good auld session in D’Arcy’s? Fishermen singing in Lowry’s and (thinking back a while) the young things falling stumbling hiccupping out of Humpty’s.
But Terry’s is where I seem to head for first, to put my toes in the water.
And although it’s empty this early evening, I don’t want to be too harsh about the pub. On a summer’s evening when the place is packed and the tunes are flying fast and frivolous, the craic in there has been mighty.
But while doubtless nobody mourns the loss of certain aspects of the ancient Irish pub, (remember those snot-ridden cobwebby filthy toilets; that skanky torn furniture; infuriating wobbly tables; nicotine-stained ceilings and disgusting sangwiches served in superheated plastic bags?) there is something androgynous and anodyne about the modern version.
Terry’s in Clifden is like Keogh’s in Ballyconneely. An excellent pub offering something for everybody, and yet, in no small way, destroyed by progress.
But on the night in question I just sat at the bar, ate some good fish and chips, and supped my precious pint.
When your boat is rocked; when you lose somebody overboard, you need to take stock, to go back to basics.
You need something you can rely on, a place to go that has been there for you in the past, and will offer the same in the future. You need a barstool and a pint of Guinness.
As that scribbler far greater than myself had it, it’s your only man.
At the bar is where I belong. I am not a table man. Staring at the optics, the mirror, phasing in and out of awareness of the worlds around me, I have sat at and found much sanity and solace in the bars of many continents, and now, sitting at the bar in Terry’s, faces come and go before my eyes, and for a minute I fear I might feel slightly overwhelmed.
And then I look around me.
How can I possibly feel overwhelmed in this large calm space, where nobody wants anything from me save the price of a pint?
Truth is, I may well be safe from the storm outside, but like a latterday and much less regal King Lear, the raging torment outside represents nothing compared to the tempest crashing around my brain, my heart and soul.
A spirit has left my life, and now I must rebuild her presence with my memories.
That will be my pleasure, because she was a pleasure to know.
And as the Wake shows us so graphically and starkly, death is part of everyday life.
Sitting at the bar in Terry’s, leaving the past behind me where it belongs, I take a snapshot of my life right now.
In four months the Snapper and I will be married, and our lives will move forward happily together. Even though death will always walk by our sides, life is the only part of the equation worthy of our concentration, and the living of it to the full must be our most worthy ambition.

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