Galway City, 2004
13.02.2004 - 22.02.2004
February, 2004 was a tense time internationally. Coalition forces had toppled the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Efforts to locate weapons of mass destruction were proving difficult. It seemed everyone had differing opinions on the invasion of Iraq and the future in the Gulf region was very much uncertain.
As a family, we decided that the international turmoil would not change our planned trip to Ireland. Tension was definitely higher than we had ever encountered there, but it was not uncomfortable for us, until that night at The Crane Bar.
The Crane is a very well known venue for traditional Irish Music. The music session is held nightly upstairs. These are usually loosely arranged affairs where talented local musicians show up around 9:30PM and play off and on in various configurations until closing time. With our kids safely with their Nana, my wife and I headed out for a pint and a few laughs. When we arrived we realized that lots of people had the same idea.
The only way we could get a seat was to share a table. We were aware of how things worked and we had no problem asking a couple of gents if we could join them. If I had to describe them, I would say that they looked like something like the deck hands in the film version of The Perfect Storm.
We were far enough away from the music that we could hold a conversation pretty easily. In the course of small talk we learned that they were not Irish but rather from the European continent and they were visiting Galway to sharpen their English language skills which were already quite good for both. Once they learned we were American, it didn’t take long for them to start going on the assault. “America does this, all Americans think that, America needs to do this, blah, blah, blah.” My wife had already extracted my word that we weren’t going to talk politics on vacation, especially with strangers. The Iraq situation was far too complex to tackle when we were very far from home and vastly outnumbered. I wasn’t up for a barroom brawl and I am pretty sure neither was my wife. The problem was that we didn’t want to leave and there was nowhere else to sit. Basically, if we wanted to have a Guinness and enjoy the music we were going to have to endure the political rants of a couple of chain smoking hippies pubbing their way across the west coast of Ireland.
Back in 2004, it was still legal to smoke in pubs in Ireland. If you can picture a wooden tobacco barn slowly smoldering on a hot North Carolina day you can picture the scene in Crane’s that night. The air was as thick as cotton candy. One of these two characters (let’s call him Beavis) had a habit of very dramatically hand rolling a cigarette while verbally ripping apart anything that did not meet his personal code of ethics, honor, and behavior. His favorite target that night was American society. When his diatribe was through he would casually smoke the cigarette, staring off into the distance like some great poet/philosopher. I actually kind of enjoyed his theatrics. My wife reconfirmed that that we were not going to engage in the debate by way of a hard squeeze of my knee. Instead the plan would be to let these two enlighten us with their global perspectives.
I told the boys we wanted to hear all about their view of the world but it would have to wait while I refilled my pint. I offered to do the same for them and they eagerly accepted. They talked, they smoked, we listened, we refilled. Slowly the tension began to melt away. We never disagreed with what they said no matter how ill-informed or off the mark the comments were.
With each successive pint, Beavis found it increasingly difficult to roll a tight cigarette. His political points became as unstructured as his cigarettes. His buddy (let’s call him Beavis II) began to talk less about politics and more about my wife’s sophisticated charm or some such thing.
By the end of the night, Beavis and Beavis II had been converted. Speaking through the glow of a loosely packed half filled cigarette with excess rolling paper fully ablaze Beavis acknowledged that maybe they were wrong about Americans. He was thankful they had the chance to get to know us and understand our perspective (even though we never offered any).
As for us, we were simply glad we got a seat and we enjoyed some great music. It may have cost us a little more than expected since the Beavis Boys never exactly reciprocated on refills but their side show was worth every penny. Gandhi said, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” I usually have a hard time adhering to those words. On this evening however, we enjoyed diffusing a tense situation and having a few laughs merely by listening instead of arguing.