GLIN, Ireland - Like his father, Thomas O'Shaughnessy loves language. The third-generation Irish pub owner patiently explained to two curious Americans last October that the word "whinger" was slang for someone who whines or complains.
The conversation had been about Ireland's smoking ban and its effect on the nation's beloved pubs. O'Shaughnessy told the two Yanks that there weren't many whingers when smoking was banned. The customers policed themselves, O'Shaughnessy said. To verify his definition of whinger, he pulled out his father's 1898 dictionary, conveniently tucked away behind the bar at O'Shaughnessy's Pub in Glin, County Limerick, Ireland.
There aren't many American bars where the proprietor would pull out a 19th century dictionary to look up an obscure word. If the bar owner did, the patron probably couldn't hear the answer above the noise of loud music or the buzz of non-stop sports on television.
O'Shaughnessy's Pub is a venue for easygoing conversation, local gossip and laughter. Someone might break into song at O'Shaughnessy's, but they wouldn't expect to backed by a karaoke machine.
Glin is a small town lacking in many of the attractions that would draw American tourists. With one look at his American visitors, he could tell they were guests at Glin Castle, the 17th century structure on the banks of the Shannon River. O'Shaughnessy works full time at a nearby chemical plant and only opens up the pub on Fridays and Saturdays after a full shift at the plant. It's a long day for the barkeep, but it keeps the family tradition alive. Food used to be offered from the adjacent restaurant space, but government regulations made that option too expensive to be practical, the bar owner said.
Irish pubs were just one of the fascinating aspects of the Ireland, which was thoroughly enjoyed by my wife, Pam, and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law in our first trip to old sod last fall.
Thoughts of that marvelous vacation come to mind as Minnesota's Irish descendants and those who just enjoy celebrations prepare for St. Patrick's Day parades in Crosslake and Brainerd on Saturday. "Oh, Danny Boy," likely will be played on a jukebox somewhere and Germans and Scandinavians will try their hand at an Irish brogue. As for me, my mind will drift back to when we experienced the real deal in Ireland.
The smoking ban in Irish pubs set into a motion a peculiar protocol we were lucky enough to witness when the owner of a bar called Paris Texas invited us to stay after closing hours at a lock-in in Kilkenny. The owner poured glasses of Jameson whiskey and the no-smoking ban was observed until he slowly pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat and lit up. No word was spoken but every smoker in the pub immediately followed suit.
No one's let in after closing and no money is collected for the drinks. We talked to the Irish patrons and listened to them sing Irish ballads and patriotic songs. Singing, it seems, is as natural to the Irish as breathing. Earlier, when the band concluded its last set, the customers were all on their feet to sing the Irish national anthem. That scene was repeated in the early morning hours when our lock-in was over.
One young Irish lady, with an angelic voice, sang a beautiful duet with an acquaintance, but quickly complained about the tempo he set.
"Slow down..." she chastised him. "I'm smoking and drinking tonight."
The Irish brought many of their traditions and quirks with them to the U.S. Those legacies thrived in the Irish-Catholic neighborhood of Chicago where my Dad grew up and also in the Irish-Catholic farming community near Heartwell, Neb., where my mom was raised.
When my wife and I traveled to south-central Nebraska for my Uncle Paul Gallagher's 80th birthday last weekend, we learned the descendants of many of those original Irish families of the Nebraska plains are still there. Mick Ryan, a farmer from Minden, Neb., recalled my mom teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. The rural school district was so filled with Ryans, Gallaghers and Hobans, he said, that two sections were called West Ireland and East Ireland.
Pubs are not the only attractions in Ireland, of course. We toured churches and castles and perilously drove on the left side of the road past some of the world's most beautiful coastal scenery.
It was even fun meeting other Americans in Ireland. On two separate occasions in Dublin, we met Americans and compared notes about our travels. On both occasions, when we told them we were from Brainerd, they shared their memories of visiting the former Paul Bunyan Amusement Center.
MIKE O'ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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