COMMENT: A toast to all those who couldn’t get back home this Christmas
Journalist and blogger Chris McCann reflects on the year that was and mulls over a festive season like no other.
There are few more bitter sweet places than a small town Irish pub at Christmas time.
From Ballycastle to Bantry, the return of the native; whether from Dublin and Belfast, London and Manchester, or Perth and New York reinvigorates communities across Ireland for a week at the turn of the year. Nowhere is this more evident than in the local.
When I was still a regular, the opportunity to reaffirm friendships decades in the making through the supping of creamy stout and retelling ever embellished yarns in Frank Owens Bar was always one of my favourite times of year.
The wistful quality of these moments was always been evident, and even enhanced the occasions. This sentiment has intensified since my role in the annual tableau of tall tales, pints and Mayfair Lights switched from that of Saturday night staple to returning rover.
My old friend Steven Doherty reckons that it’s the glimpse of a more prosperous alternate reality for our parishes that to coin a phrase ‘really hits home’.
A couple of years back we were at the bar getting the round in and as is required on such occasions I was trotting out with some half-lit, hackneyed platitude about how good it was to have the old gang back together for a night and how it was pity that it couldn’t happen more often when Doc turned and said to me:
“You know Cooper (a nickname I picked up in Primary 2 that has stuck), I think these nights when everybody is back and the bar is heavin’ are a wee bit depressing. They always make me think of what a thriving place the town could be if the were enough opportunities for folk to stay here.”
Sincere reflections of this ilk aren’t typical of the discourse that takes place while stood waiting on seven pints of Guinness, and at the time I cracked back: ‘Ah sure who would want to spend more than one night a year with these f**kers.’
But his observation struck a chord.
No oul yarn loses anything in the retelling
For a few nights in late December small Irish communities get their own ‘Wonderful Life’ moment. Here’s what your parishes might have been had circumstances not conspired to see thousands of people leave their home place.
Yet for all the sense of the plaintive that such evenings engender, indeed perhaps because of it, that night at Frank Owens when the Wild Geese have all returned to the Roe Valley is one that I love.
But there’ll be no night in the pub this Christmas.
It’s the evening of Friday December 18th. In any other year Bronagh and I might be leaving our North London flat right about now heading for Stansted or Heathrow but not this year.
Jason Toner, Richard Walsh, Trevor Moore, Peter O’Hara and myself aren’t getting on planes this year. The back and forth of deciding which night works best for who isn’t happening this year. The pub will be closed this year.
In the grand scheme of everything that’s happened to so many people in 2020 it’s a small thing, yet it’s a precious small thing.
But it’s only one year, we can weather it out. Friendships that have lasted nearly 40 years will withstand a 12 month hiatus, a year’s extra distance certainly won’t mean any stripping of the gild we apply to the old tales, and I’m promised the Guinness will taste extra creamy in 2021.
It won’t be bittersweet.