When traveling in Europe, I think half the thrill is experiencing good food and good drink with good friends. Over the years, I’ve developed this uncanny knack for searching out and finding cool little places to eat and drink. My rule is always go for the local stuff. To do that you’ve often got to get out of your comfort zone, venture sometimes into the unknown, and even be willing to accept embarrassment or ridicule… but the pay-off is most always worth the effort. I wrote this article in 2003 after returning from a trip to Ireland.
REFLECTIONS FROM MY “THE BEST OF IRELAND” TOUR – MAY 2003
IRELAND: The Irish people take pride in their heritage and the hard times they have endured. As we drove about the island I was saddened at the old landmarks which draw a vivid picture of the harsh history which the Irish have endured. Yet I was also pleased to see signs of great change due to the rapid growth of the Irish economy in the past few years, coupled with the people’s deep desire to preserve the past for future generations.
We spent some time in Doolin near the end of our tour. You’ve got to be going to Doolin to get to Doolin. It is located in County Clare just 500 meters from the rugged Atlantic coast. Life here for hundreds of years has been tough and hard to bear. The land is too rugged for crops. During the famine the English overlords banned many a Irish soul to this God forsaken place.
Doolin, in the last 20 years, has become an outpost for traditional Irish music. Its three pubs (that’s the extent of the town) host Irish musicians each night. These musicians entertain the locals and tourist alike with gigs, reels, waltzes, and folk songs. All you have to do to enjoy the scene is show up about 9 p.m. and work your way into a seat.
Many people from my groups have become experts at the pubs over the past 10 days. Here are some hints we think will help make your visit to an Irish pub a most enjoyable experience.
1. GRAND ENTRANCE – When you walk into a pub in the early evening (before 8:30 p.m.) everyone will stop what they are doing and look at you! (Remember the word PUB is short for ‘Public Place’. This is where people gather to talk about the day’s news, to discuss who died and who left town). Don’t be afraid. Hold your ground and proceed to step two.
2. DON’T SIT DOWN!! STEP UP TO THE BAR – Nobody is going to wait on you at a table. Sitting at a table means you want to be left alone. In order to get a food or a drink, you’ve got to work your way through the crowd and up to the bar. When you get there the bartender will not wait on you until you make EYE CONTACT and give a sign that you’re ready to order.
3. ORDER YOUR DRINK – Once you’ve completed step two above, now you’re ready to order. Speak up over the crowd and state you’re order. For example: a pint of Smithwick’s will get you the ale brewed in Kilkenny. DON’T SAY SMITH-WICK’S….IT’S “SMID-ICKS”. If you just say you want a pint, you’ll most likely get the dark stout known as GUINNESS. Don’t ask what’s on tap… the taps are right in front of you. Remember, speak up over the crowd.
4. DON’T BE IMPATIENT – BARTENDERS TAKE THEIR TIME. – It takes a good five minutes or so to get a drink. Drawing just the right pint of stout is an art form. The bartender will usually fill the glass 2/3 full and let it sit for a few minutes then come back and put the finishing “head” on the top.
5. STAND AT THE BAR. – If you want to meet people stand at the bar, talk to people, and ask questions. It will amaze you how many people you’ll make friends with in an evening.
6. MAKING CONVERSATION… CRAIC….WILL USUALLY GET YOU FREE DRINKS – Three young ladies were with me on tour last month. They AND their boyfriends scored free drinks almost every night by being friendly and flashing those pearly whites.
7. TAP YOUR FOOT! – There will always be music — enjoy it!
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