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Cormac MacConnell - The West's Awake
A Couple of Californians
September 3, 2008
The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
THE lovely couple from California’s wine country came into Cruise’s bar and restaurant in Ennis the other evening just before the evening fireside session started. They selected a table close to the table where the musicians were just arriving, and he ordered a pint of Guinness and she ordered one of those little quarter-bottles of red wine. Being from wine country she was not all that impressed by the quality of the red wine, but she drank it anyway.
I’d say they were in their late thirties, and we learned later that both are teachers. He loves Ireland, has been here before, and would live here. I think she was on her first trip and quite impressed, especially by all the natural greenery.
They both have Irish blood in them. They asked the musicians courteously when would the music be starting and were told that it would be soon — the singer had not arrived yet.
I said across to them from our table that it would probably be about 30 minutes, and that started a small conversation which encourages me to add a couple of extra hints to the list which I supplied to first-time visitors to the Emerald Isle published here earlier in the season.
The lady wanted to know could one get mixed drinks easily? I gathered she was talking about cocktails.
I thought for a second or two and said that there were many pubs in rural areas where they would not be readily available, but she should not have much difficulty (if any) in more upmarket bar/restaurants and in hotels. I listed several such in Ennis where they would mix cocktails for her in a flash.
She then asked me to explain the difference between a “pub” and a “bar,” and that closed my mouth for a while!
I said, upon reflection, that the words were interchangeable, but there were subtle differences. A pub was likely to be in the countryside, was quite likely not to have a restaurant attached or have any food available, and to be somewhat more spartan than a bar.
As a general rule, I said, the drinking population of a pub was likely to be overwhelmingly male, while that of a bar would be perhaps 50-50. It’s a rude definition, but it was the best I could manage at the time.
As the musicians struck up around the corner, the inevitable blast of reels, she asked was there likely to be singing included. Would she be likely to hear old Irish songs she loved like “Danny Boy” and “Molly Malone”?
She knew these were Irish American favorites, but she loved them and always wanted to hear them. That query closed my mouth for a while too.
I said finally that the session in Cruises’ was likely to be 95% music, but there were likely to be a few songs before it ended. She might hear one of the old standards.
In organized sessions where the musicians were playing for a fee, I said, the fare was overwhelmingly jigs and reels. In rural pubs, often those without an organized session at all, there were often singsongs which began spontaneously, involved about everybody in the house before ending, and which would always include a rip-roaring “Molly Malone” or “Dublin in the Rare Ould Times” before they ended.
Where would she find one of those? I did my best. They are spontaneous things, I said, but certain pubs throughout the country are more likely to have them than others.
They were heading south towards (inevitably) Killarney ,Cork and Waterford, and I listed a few likely establishments along the way.
I hope I got them one “hit” at least.
They told us they had attended the medieval banquet in Bunratty the previous night and had enjoyed that.
The husband, very practically, asked about the tipping system in Ireland. He told an amazing story of the taximan in Dublin who told him he was tipping too much at the end of their trip in from Dublin Airport, and gave him back the most of his tip! I told him he’d met a unique Dublin taximan.
I advised them there was no fixed percentage tip system here in restaurants, certainly not the 15% they had at home. Generally, I advised, a *5 tip atop the price of dinner for two was quite acceptable, and sometimes a service charge was already included.
I encouraged them, when in pubs/bars, not to run a tab but to pay for each drink on arrival and to put away their change in their pockets rather than leaving it on the bar. And maybe give the good barman the price of a drink for himself at the end of the night if they thought he/she deserved it.
We were leaving before they were. I told them the name of a genuine pub where there was likely to be a good old-fashioned singsong developing about 10:30.
I hope they went there, and I hope that when that lovely couple were coming through the door that somebody was in the middle of “Molly Malone.” They probably were too.
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