Dick Mack’s Pub, in Dingle, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland, is across the narrow street from St. Mary’s church. The pub itself is a stubborn antique that retains its character through zero maintenance. Dick Mack’s occupies a space that first sold dairy products and tea and then became a leatherworks and shoe store during the day – and a public house after dark. No food or trappings. Just whiskey and porter. If any paint has been applied to Dick Mack’s Pub in the last quarter-century, it was Oliver Mack’s bit of memorable prose on the alley gate next to the pub: “Where is Dick Mack’s? Opposite the church. Where is the church? Opposite Dick Mack’s.”
I went in to Dick’s for a silent pint, put down three Euros and grabbed my dark drink of Guinness. I sat on the workbench next to the shoe shelves and old footwear.
It’s easy to stay quiet at Dick Mack’s Pub. Most of the patrons speak in hushed tones, some of them in Irish. The tiny nature of the pub and its local regulars can be intimidating. Unsuspecting travelers coming through the door immediately sense the silence and feel the gaze of the regulars as though they were walking into a classroom or interrupting an IRA…or AA meeting! Some of them turn heels before they get two feet in the door. Go in…and experience the real Ireland.
I observed a man called Peadar in Dick Mack’s. He was a middle-aged, debonair yet gruff fellow who smoked hand-rolled cigarettes in no particular hurry. I listened to Peadar and his friend, Joe, speak to each other at the workbench for a long time. It was near half-eleven and we were the only three patrons remaining.
“Peadar, did you know Neil went to sea?”
“Went to see what?”
“For Chissakes you know what I’m saying.”
“I do. I know.”
Hearing that it was last call, I asked for a glass of Jameson Crested Ten whiskey.
“My father used to drink that stuff, that Crested Ten,” Peadar said directly to me when he heard me order it.
I extended my hand and introduced myself to Joe and Peader.
“What do you do here in Dingle?” I asked Joe.
“As little as possible.”
Joe and I toasted to that.
Peadar didn’t bother to answer.
“Michael Patrick Shiels. Shiels,” Peadar finally said. He rolled the “L” while he rolled a cigarette. “Do you know a Jimmy Shiels from Dublin? That’s where I grew up.”
“No, I don’t think so,” I answered.
“Well I went to school with Jimmy Shiels,” Peader interrupted me.
“You’re a Catholic, are you, Michael Patrick Shiels?”
“I am, yes.”
Joe shook his head and puffed before Peadar continued. “All this religion came about because as human beings, when we were running around naked with the lions, we had to go and fight for our food. We could hunt without fear because we didn’t know the difference between living and dying. We hunted and scavenged to survive. We didn’t know the lion was going to eat us every time.
“Then the frontal lobe developed and we got smarter,” Peadar said, pointing to his head. “Suddenly the human being could understand his own demise. The human being got scared. He was too frightened to hunt. But that was no way to survive, you see. At the same time the frontal lobe developed, the pituitary gland developed,” he said, this time pointing to the base of his skull. “That gave the human being an imagination, and with that imagination, he had to invent something like God and an afterlife. Otherwise, he’d have been too smart ever to have left the cave to fight the lion. 2,000 years of religion later we’re killing each other instead of killing the lions.”
Joe tried to change the subject my breaking into song.
“And we all got stone-cold paralytic drunk the night the old pub caught fire!”
Peadar shot a look at Joe.
“It’s a true song,” Joe said. “I know the guy who says he started the fire.”
Peadar to neared the bottom of his pint and Joe, rarely speaking, had long since finished his.
“When Cromwell had finished taking most of Ireland, he took off on a ship and left his deputy in command. It was obvious to all that Cromwell’s deputy was going to bring his men to invade Connemara, if for no other reason than to find out if Connemara was just all rocks and bogs. Whether it was worth conquering,” Peader went on, knowing there was not another pint coming. “Well, there was a giant living in Connemara at the time. He was considered to be a giant because he was something like six-foot-seven. The average man then was about five-foot-six. So he was a giant.
“When Cromwell’s deputy and his men reached the river to cross into Connemara, they looked across to the other riverbank and saw this giant sitting up on a horse.
‘I’ll use my bare hands to tear apart the first man that crosses this river,’ the giant shouted.
“Cromwell’s invaders turned tail and got out of there,” Peadar said, with his eyes smiling through his thick glasses.
I swallowed the last of my whiskey. He took a drag on his cigarette and continued.
“I am proud to say that the records will confirm that the giant I just told you about was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.”
“Oh, go away now,” Joe said. “Go away with you now.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! www.DiscoverIreland.com (800) Shamrock
March 21, 2010