Fall comes early to Ireland. By mid-August, each day is noticeably shorter than the last. The weather doesn’t so much change as it doubles down. The wind blows slightly stronger. The rain grows more persistent.
Kids return to school. After a 6-week tourist season of festivals and a horse race, the village of Courtmacsherry reverts to what it is: A coastal fishing village.
And these changes herald my favorite event. Around half six, as the locals say, on Sunday evenings, a band sets up in the Anchor Bar: Two guitars, a congo drum, and a keyboard. They sing 60s and 70s music. Credence. Dylan. The Beetles. The front room is small; the band takes up half, leaving space for two tables, five or six stools pulled up to the bar, and a cluster of locals. Everyone sings along; it’s encouraged. They call it ‘a sing-song.’
It’s the way an Irish village survives the winter. When all that remains are a blustery sky and a coal fire. Friends and a group of musicians.
Inevitably before the night is out, one or more patrons will come forward, take the microphone, and sing a few songs. Well or poorly, it doesn’t matter. But shine a light on an Irishman, and I guarantee you that he will sing.
Recently, on back to back Sundays, Paddy sang. He likes his drink. Half way through the set, he stands, wobbles forward. He channels a mean Shane MacGowan. Or Johnny Cash. Dirty Old Town. Ring of Fire. His voice is raspy. A Bob Dylan voice (or a Shane MacGowan voice). Paddy is 50 but looks 35. Whippet thin. As he sings, “I went down, down, down” he crouches lower and lower until his knees touch the floor. We egg him on; we sing along.
I love to sing. Not on stage. Never alone. But with friends. In a well-worn pub.
Our last night in Ireland was a Sunday night. Paddy wasn’t there; a man I didn’t know took over the stage. Instead of joining the band, he replaced the lead guitarist/singer. His style was bluesy, a professional. New songs. Unknown words. We clapped to the beat.
Then a man stood and recited an Irish ballad. Half way through he stopped, forgetting the words. “Help me now folks.” But then he found the thread. It was a rambling story about a man who repeatedly promised his mother he would visit her and go to mass on Christmas Day. But by the time he arrived, she had died. Her funeral was following Christmas mass.
I sat riveted next to one of the publicans, Noel, who whispered along. When the man finished, you could have heard a pin drop. Then someone at the bar said, “Aye. I love that one.”
The mood shifted. A party. This was our final night in Courtmacsherry. Rounds of drinks. A couple who have become good friends joined us to say goodbye. One of them laughed, “Julie you won’t be doing this next Sunday night in Paris.” And I understood his implication: You’ll miss it.
He may realize I prefer life in Paris. That I never bemoaned an Irish immigration official who closed the door on our plans to live there long-term.
I am an unrepentant Francophile.
Yet last Sunday night as I climbed into bed, I wondered who was in the Anchor Bar. If Paddy was singing Dirty Old Town. If his knees touched the floor. If the women gathered around him to dance as they are wont to do.
And yes, I missed it.
Choices are never black and white.