I was just watching the World Cup in the West of Ireland when
this man walked into the bar with a donkey.
It wasn't just
any old donkey, but one that was clearly supporting Ireland who were beating Saudi
Arabia two nil at the time.
It had on its back a distinctive
green and orange flag and one of those daft hats you see soccer fans in Japan
sporting on the telly as they babble away in thick English accents giving thumbs-up
signs after each match.
I'd love to report that none of
the real locals who had gathered in the bar by 12.30pm took any notice, but they
laughed just as much as I did. The grisly old man who held the rein grinned toothlessly
as one or two startled tourists took a picture and I could swear the donkey grinned
back and then it was all over. You couldn't make it up, really.
was a proper Irish bar, called "J. O'Neill's" or something like
that, with a dusty shop at the front and a real bell that tinkled when you pushed
open the door. They actually sold carbolic soap and the aroma merged with smoke
from a wood-burning stove in the corner with a chimney going up through the ceiling.
I can tell you though that most of the men in there didn't have a drink. In the
best tradition of a Turkish teashop, they sat quietly at the back just watching
the TV slung above the bar. Three giggling shopgirls came in wearing World Cup
tee-shirts and drank halves of lager and a Swedish tourist and her boyfriend sat
at the side and shared a pot of yoghurt she took from her handbag. You could tell
they were Scandinavian. Who else would leave at half time? There's nowhere in
that part of the world you have to get to in a hurry on a Tuesday afternoon.
the game was over, most of them went back to work. The girls opened up the gift
shop and some of the men returned to a farm and some to a nearby garage a few
miles into the limestone Burren near Kinvara, County Clare.
discovered that barmen the country over were happy to make coffee and charge one
Euro in between taking their time over pouring pints of Guinness. I couldn't help
finding out that a pint of the black stuff was usually three Euros and fifteen
cents (just over £2) and was with you within about five minutes of entering
licensed premises. I've found it is the most commonly sought information on my
return to the North of England where the price of a pint is a lifelong obsession.
couldn't have contemplated not being in a bar when I found myself in Ireland when
they were on TV in the World Cup. A hotel bedroom or even someone's lounge would
have been unthinkable. Well, I wanted to be in a one horse town on that day for
once to taste the atmosphere rather than the drink and it was everything I hoped
it might be, quite apart from the fact that I actually met the horse.