By Allison Monahan
I don’t think I’ll ever forget Sean Finnegan. I can picture him clearly, an older man with a freshly shaven face and slight 5’7″ build. He wore a red wool sweater vest and flat cap, and his warm smile contrasted with the frigid Dublin air as he led a walking tour of the. city center. He was the first real local I encountered during my semester studying abroad in Ireland, and that afternoon set the tone for the rest of the trip.
After about an hour and a half weaving us through bustling crowds and places of significance, Sean led us across Ha’Penny Bridge into Temple Bar. We strode into the dim, cozy pub, which bore a green sign with “The Quays” painted in gold script over its open wooden doors. He declared this to be the end out the tour, and that we should all relax and have a pint before walking back.
I remember he ordered himself a Guinness, sat himself down on a bar stool to face us, and waited for us to begin the conversation. His stature relaxed from a proper historian to an every day man looking for a good story. When my roommate and I approached him about visiting Newgrange up in County Meath, Sean’s gray-blue eyes lit up with renewed excitement. Suddenly Sean was excitedly scrolling through photos of when he and his wife won entry tickets to see Newgrange on the winter solstice, insisting we must go see the passage tomb and knew just the tour to take to get there.
I would come to find that this sort of behavior was entirely common of Dubliners. When visiting pubs or restaurants in the US, I didn’t find many people went out of their way to talk to those outside their immediate friend group, and those sitting by themselves often stayed by themselves with odd looks from those around them. This awkwardness did not assert itself nearly as strongly across the Atlantic. Without any awkwardness, I chatted up a teacher I met at a pub around the corner from Trinity College. He was thankful for the school term to be finished, but was happy to chat about his family’s visits to America and how he wished to go back to New York someday. When he finished his Guinness, he pardoned himself and went on his way, simple as that.
From a historical perspective, pubs (or “public houses”) were taverns run out of the lower floors of a family’s home. Most people received their wages at the pubs, as well. This inherently gives pubs a) a sense of acceptance by being allowed into another person’s home and b) lessening of stress due to the replenishing of their spending money. Buying other people drinks in Ireland as a whole is very common, and much easier to do after having just been paid.
While no one really gets paid in the pubs themselves anymore, the relaxed, homey vibe of the public house still holds true. When the day’s working hours are done, the pubs become flooded with people looking to unwind, catch up with friends, listen to the nightly bands and share their stories over a pint. The community brought together over the simple joy of sharing space and time with other people, no matter who they were or where they came from, was a touching display of humanity found in an unlikely place.
Have you ever immersed yourself in Irish culture? Please share your story in the comments below!
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