“The Irishman” recalls his early drinking days in County Cork in the first of his reminiscences
As I enter my eighth decade with, apparently, no sign of liver disease, I have taken reflection on what for a large amount of my time has been a most enjoyable hobby – i.e. drinking large quantities of various beers in a good number of pubs in Britain and Ireland. While this has come at some expense I have never regretted a penny (well maybe sometimes) of this, and my love of pubs has left me with some fond and, I hope, amusing memories.
Every pub, and in most cases, landlord, is unique. I am not talking about some of today’s huge chains, mostly run from the back by accountants and the front by robots, programmed by the former – but proper pubs, be it the darts, dominoes and Racing Post town boozer or the sleepy looking village local. In the next few instalments, I would like to share a few experiences I have had in these magical places.
My fondness for pub life began in south-west Ireland (unsurprisingly) where I was born, and my first local I shall simply call “Dan at the Dock”. This was situated near the estuary where the ferry crossed the River Bandon, in County Cork. It was a ten-minute cycle ride from the village where I was living, which had no pub or shop. As a treat when I was a youngster my father would take me down to the Dock, and plonk me outside with a pineapple juice by the river while he drank God knows how much Guinness (or porter as it was known) inside with the local fishermen and farmers.
The Dock was also used as a drop-off point by the local baker, milkman and greengrocer from across the river for orders from the locals since, again there was no shop here – only the Dock.
As I reached my teens, I used to take our pony and trap down to the Dock and pick up some of our provisions until, one glorious summer’s day, I was invited in by Dan and his two daughters to come and have a glass. A new beginning!
The bar itself was long and plain – no pumps as all the porter, Beamish and other beers came from an assortment of barrels behind the bar. A pint of porter was 1/6 (or seven and half new pence!). Dan the landlord was a man of huge proportions with arms like ham hocks, the belly of a pregnant sow and the head and features of Shrek. His dress code behind the bar was a very well-worn shirt, corduroy trousers and a hessian apron. Every pint was followed by a congenial “there ye are noo”, usually followed by a cough and wheeze akin to a TB patient on his last breath – environmental health was not Dan’s strong point.
A few years later, by now a regular at the age of 17, there was one night that summed up the Dock. On Friday nights it was always heaving as musicians would play, cards were dealt and porter would flow. The Garda were too busy to worry Dan and, in his eyes, licensing hours didn’t exist.
It was one such Friday that resulted in me waking up rather bleary-eyed on a Saturday with (horror of horrors) no cigarettes, but a pleasant memory about one of Dan’s daughters! Never mind; Dan would be up and about and we needed some groceries, which he supplied from his garage after supplies from the other side of the river had been left by the pub door.
As I arrived on the pony and trap, I was concerned that the bread etc. were still by the door, the window shutters closed and no sign of Dan. I picked up some gravel and began throwing it at the shutters. After a few throws the shutters flew open and Dan’s ogre-like head, complete with nightcap, appeared.
“Oh, ‘tis ye master Simon!” (as he always called me) “What is it ye want?”
“Twenty gold flake and a cob loaf please,” I replied.
The door opened, Dan appeared, picked up some bread and coughed and wheezed heavily over it.
“Jesus. What a grand night it was last night, master Simon,” he said as we moved into the bar – still littered with overflowing ashtrays and empty, or nearly empty, glasses everywhere. Dan reached across the bar for the cigarettes: “Twenty gold flake 1/9, and sixpence for the cob. Would you be having a drink with me now you’re here, master Simon?” he said as he coughed and spluttered again. I politely declined but Dan was insistent.
“OK, Dan,” I said, “I’ll have half a porter with you.” I didn’t normally do halves but it wasn’t 11 o’clock yet.
Dan paused, mopping the alcohol-infused sweat from his brow with one of his enormous hands, looked up and down the bar and picked up a glass.
“I think this is the glass ye had last night, master Simon,” he declared, as he poured my first but not last pint of the day.
No … environmental health was definitely not the strongest point for “Dan at the Dock”!