This is the first year I've been in Ireland on Paddy's Day... not sure how I've missed it so many years before. I have the huge blessing of being a resident here now, too.
I couldn't resist saying a few words about my new home country, a place I'm falling madly, fastly, deeply in love with.
The community we've moved to, Holywood, is full of interesting, great people. There is a vibrant High Street and most people seem to "buy local." Everyone tells me "You're very welcome." It's not because I've given them anything, it's just their way of welcoming a new face.
The community and the surroundings are gorgeous but the local bar is a craphole -- in the best sense of the word.
It's called The Maypole Bar but everyone calls it Ned's. You'd be a fool to walk in the front door -- everyone uses the hidden side entrance. The plain wooden benches look like they've been there since the 50's, as does the rest of the decor. I'd heard there was sawdust on the floor, but on the day I went it was just grimy floorboards. You sit with your overcoat on and your knees around your ears, under lights so high and so bright you could be in a Dunnes Stores or a JC Penney's. Perfect for staring at people, which is what you do in Ned's -- there are no TVs, no fruit machines, no billiards, no music. There are no right angles in the walls, ceilings or floors. You get the sense you shouldn't pull your phone out; you're in a different era in here. The owner, who looks about 140, brings your drinks on a small round cocktail tray and sheepishly asks you to pay for them. You know he'd rather give them for free. Ned's is a thriving business beloved by the local drinkers and known as a lasting Irish tradition. Everyone loves it and everyone goes, and there isn't much competition if you'd rather drink someplace more glamorous.
In today's world of shiny, new everything, Ned's is a striking place, but the thing that strikes me most about Ned's is that I could be sitting in any bar in Upstate NY, even the "gentlemen's bar" my grandfather Avery owned, Oak Hill Tavern. My grandfather is gone but my aunt and uncle keep his bar going, because it's a tradition that should go on. The stark interiors, the no-nonsense approach to life, the need to enjoy a drink and wind down from a world that often just winds us up. And the lack of a need for much else; including signage.
And that's what it means to be Irish. They've made a brand name out of hospitality and chitchat. They've welcomed everyone, and in turn, the world has welcomed them. Irish culture is so endearing it has survived in every other country in the world. There are millions more Irish people than live on this fine island, but I suspect many would love to be sitting in my shoes right now, writing to you from the dark green foothills of the Craigantlet hills at the very base of the Ards Peninsula.
And I haven't even spoken about the literary traditions yet -- that's for another post.
I leave you with some photos of my new homeland and I say to you, Happy Paddy's (with a D) Day.