At Doolan’s Bar in Waterford, Ireland
“I only understand half of what they’re saying,” Eric said. “But that’s enough.”
His companion, a short, bald man in a green sweater with the smile of a geophysicist too deep in his cups, had just fallen down at my feet. It was the second time he had crashed to the floor that evening. And he was applauded. It is not every man who can fall down drunk without spilling his beer. Eric and the geophysicist are doing an underwater survey for a new communications cable between Ireland and England.
Eric is English, not a popular thing to be at Doolan’s bar. “But I don’t take it personally,” he said.
The drunken scientist is Irish, and Gaelic-speaking at that. They were at Doolan’s bar because it had such provisions as keep sailors on shore leave occupied. Not just alcohol, but women… and what passes for lively entertainment in small Irish towns in mid-winter.
If I spoke Gaelic, for the singer mixed Gaelic expressions into his songs, or even understood the Irish accent better, I could have understood more of what was said amid the sloppy, besotted din of Doolan’s bar last night. But, like Eric, I probably understood enough. The music style might be best described as Irish self- pity. The songs were political. Sentimental.
Maudlin. When they weren’t describing some guy who had to leave Ireland to find work in Florida, poor fellow, they expressed the familiar Irish themes: irredentism, patriotism and pathetic proletarianism. They were sung in that whiney Irish tenor voice that brings a mist to your eyes — if you are in a particularly lugubrious mood or an alcoholic stupor.
Waterford is a working class town, in which there wasn’t much work available – from the Famine to the European Union.
In Doolan’s I tried once again to understand the peculiar psychology of mass delusion. The crowd sang the songs. They rose and raised their hands when the Irish anthem was sung. They locked arms and swayed back and forth — having a grand time.
They were like the soccer fans, who suspend all judgement, reason, or sense of dignity. They paint their bellies blue and yell at the top of their voices. Even when watching the game on television, where they couldn’t possibly affect its outcome, they will get together with friends and make complete fools of themselves. And on Monday morning they retake their places in society as sober and sensible people.
As the evening wore on at Doolan’s and more pints were poured, the raucous bar scene and hard-edged music seemed to soften. It was like a photo that was airbrushed… almost gauzy in the smoke-filled haze.
The singer’s voice had become more raw as the evening advanced – thanks to tobacco, beer and the hard kvetching it had to do. But even the voice took on a sweet tone as his ballad told a particularly sappy tale. I felt for a moment that feeling that you get when you are connected to a group. No longer standing alone as an observer, you surrender and become part of the scene yourself. I felt a sentimental mist arising in my eye… and even the fat girls looked fetching.
Excerpted and adapted from “At Doolan’s Bar in Waterford” by Bill Bonner in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 23