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A Pint of Plain, by Bill Barich

July 4, 2016 1 comment

I picked this book up while I was in Dublin in May this year with my husband. It was in a used bookshop that was going out of business so I thought I had to get something. What would be more apropos then to read a book about pubs while visiting Ireland. Actually, it was something I seriously hadn’t thought about prior to purchasing the book, visiting pubs, that is.

I’ve never been much of a drinker, except maybe by accident when I come across something really tasty and then take too much. But normally, drink is not first on my list. I’m very deliberate in that way.

In fact, our only purpose for visiting a pub when we were in Dublin was in search of some real Irish music. Ironically, this is one of the purposes that the author has when he first begins his research into what has happened to the Irish pubs and their reputation. He’s looking for authenticity and part of that approach is for him to locate somewhere that plays authentic music.

Barich certainly visits many pubs, both within Dublin and without. He does a decent job of describing the interiors, the food, the beer, the staff, etc. He also has a poetic style of writing. I suppose what I found lacking was any real organization in the book.

After reading the whole book, and it took time. I realized that we actually did a decent job of visiting the one pub that probably had as authentic an atmosphere as lucky tourists my get on their first try – and that was O’Donohues at 15 Merrion Row. Here’s a link to someone else’s youtube video of the live music.

Along the theme of music, Barich describes a collection of more than 1800 melodies that went into The Music of Ireland in 1903 and which is still commonly referred to as “The Book” for still being a definitive resource for musicians. Barich repeats a quote that describes traditional music:

Traditional music…connects the past to the present and closes a circle, and that’s the source of its powerful hold on an audience.

This is the best music link I could find on YouTube. Prepare for 40 luscious minutes of Irish music.

This must be true to some extent, because I have often felt myself held by traditional music, even when it is not my own, but I must say, having descended from four Irish relatives, the pull of Irish music holds me in a way that most other traditional music doesn’t. Is there some type of genetic memory that clings to us from generation?

My only regret, after reading the book, is that we didn’t visit the Brazen Head Pub, even though we walked right past it and it definitely looked inviting. We just didn’t take the leap!

Barich spends a few moments, in spatters throughout the book, referring to Oldenburg’s theory of third places (“great good places…that are at the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy”) and how pubs fit into the definition of “third places” – not home, the first place, nor work, the second place. A third place provides neutral ground that erases the distinction between a host and a guest… Anyway, there is a ton to read on that subject.

While in Ireland, I discovered that many Australians originated from Irish convict status, and I was able to confirm that none of my stock began in Australia this way – not that it would have meant anything if they had.

My Irish ancestors: My maternal grandfather descended from pure Irish stock on his mother’s side. Her father’s parents were Hugh Carolin 1808-1964 (Dublin) married Margaret Gilchrist 1805-1857. Her mother was Elizabeth Spillane 1808-1896 (Holycross, Tipperary). I don’t have information on whom she married. Based on the period that these people were alive, I am assuming that they fled Ireland during the potato famine.

Heading to Ireland, at a time, when Syrian refugees were and continue to pour out into the rest of the world, and rediscovering part of my family’s past had a certain serendipity to it. All of us have come from somewhere and many of us have immigrated at some point in our lives or our ancestors have. Would I be here, in the United States today, prospering, if my Irish relatives had not been able to escape Ireland’s potato famine…looking for food and life?

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Categories: Books, Family, Ireland, Personal, Travel