We were at Maggie’s, a pub on Kiernan Street in Kilkenny, and the devil was panting at Anthony Macauley’s elbow, for the Irish lads were dueling it out with the musicians from Cornwall and the fiddles were smoking. The four musicians from Cornwall had their backs to the dark plank wall. Portraits of Yeats and Shaw frowned down on them.
“I’m going to have to number these tunes,” muttered the Cornish fiddler.
“There’s no point; you can’t count,” taunted one of the Irish lads.
Maggie’s had not been an easy find. Lawrence and I had been in Ireland for almost a week; we’d arrived the Friday before, on a lovely spring morning, to begin a journey that would take us all over the island. Lawrence, fiddle strapped to his back, had come in quest of his musical roots. I was looking for poetry.
As soon as the doors of the tiny Aer Lingus plane closed at the Edinburgh Airport, we felt the change. We moved, in a heartbeat, from the reserved silence of strangers to the air of familiarity surrounding somebody’s kitchen table. Tongues were loosened like neckties. Voices rose from every seat on the plane. One happy fellow, returning from a golf holiday in Scotland, held his Duty Free bottle of liquor aloft, exhorting his companions to try some. The flight attendant had to yell over the din. She flushed like a barmaid in training. I remembered what a friend of mine had told me about the wedding she’d orchestrated in Ireland. She’d asked her future mother-in-law if they should plan on an open bar.
“Are you mad, darlin’?” the wise Irish woman replied. “If we do that, they’ll drink till there’s no one standin.’ ”
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