Thursday, May 10, 2012

Around the World: Carrig's

A week in May, 1992

The Carrig's pub became a therapeutic haven of lighthearted discussion, song and friendship.  Terry's bottomless and embracing hospitality was the very thing this weary traveler needed after a lengthy wander. The regulars that gathered daily included two "local-ish" guys, David and Paul, Anne who lived in a trailer with her team of Whippets, Terry, Richard and myself.  Richard's mom, Josephine checked in on us regularly, being the only sober soul in attendance. 

Not only did Carrig's draw in a comfortable crowd, entertained by a steady stream of musicians, it was a place that begged you to stay for one more story, one more song, and one more round.  The disarming ambiance, an atmosphere dripping with frivolity and Terry's welcoming nature, convinced me one night that I could sing.  There are some things even a few pints of Guinness can't fix.

As much as I wanted to see more of Ireland, the music festival in Doolin, the Giant's Causeway in the North, Temple Bar in Dublin, then snake my way through Scotland's hills on the way back to London, I had no desire to leave the sanctuary of the pub.  The conversation never ended; there was always a story being told, someone to meet, music to enjoy.  Carrig's, in all its captivating glory, was a place to rest in the company of friends, both old and new, and never a moment short on laughter.

I, unfortunately, didn't scribble down any notes during this time.  I only have my hazy memories and stories from those who were there.  My good friend, Richard, was kind enough to share one:


"Irish traditional music lives wherever people fall under its spell.  But for a brief period each year, it thrives in Doolin, a town I've never been to, but to which I'd planned to drag my friend Skye.  We left Limerick on a Friday morning, planning to hitch the distance.  Unaware of the Irish lift-catching rules which included a straightforward first-in-first-out system and effective use of intersections, we wandered a fair way up the highway and wound up toasting a curious herd of cows with some fine whiskey.

Finally a car screeched to a halt, and the driver patiently explained the rules of catching a "lift" (never a "ride").  Shortly we found ourselves in Ennistymon, outside a pub that an old friend from Canada owned.  We didn't know it then, but the Carrig's drinking team had arrived. 

Terry was, and is, a whirling dervish of mirth and laughter and although we'd only stopped in for one drink, we set up in a booth and laughed and drank too late into the night to find lodgings.  I think we became a bit of a draw in the town as everyone seemed to drop in to meet the mad Canadians.  Certainly Saturday passed in a blur of Guiness and cigarette smoke.  I'm pretty sure I didn't hallucinate John King's arrival, former all-Ireland accordion master,  but the cast of characters couldn't really have included three Swedish banjo players.  

John King with Terry

By late Saturday night, the ladies had acquired admirers and the party was on.  If we didn't simply stay awake, we slept in the attic under heaps of costume clothing left behind by the building's former tenant.

One morning I woke with a panicked feeling that the Doolin festival was rapidly slipping out of our grasp.  Over 10 AM drinks,  I gently suggested a short hitch to at least spend one day at the festival.  Out of a pool of blank stares, a curt voice informed me that no mission more complicated than a change of socks and underwear was going to be undertaken.  I remember a pang of disappointment, but Terry pointed out that pretty much the whole cast of musicians from the festival seemed to be passing through Carrig's anyway.  

With no choice but to cave to the demands of the group, I drank another Guinness.

I still haven't been to Doolin."  


Once the idea that the rest of Ireland wasn't getting any closer, it was decided that we should at least make the short trip to the Cliffs of Moher.  Directions were offered, snacks were packed, a map, water and money were carefully gathered in a small pouch.  Richard and I boldly stepped away from the pub booth in search of the Cliffs.  We made it to the door of the pub when we realized there was something frighteningly horrible outside. 


Recoiling in pain from the blinding bright sun, we limped in agony back into the welcoming darkness of the pub and requested another pint. 

We did successfully made it to the Cliffs of Moher on the cloudy day that followed.  We also agreed that further discussion of activities beyond walking distance from Carrig's was just wishful thinking.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare


Mornings blurred into afternoons.  Evenings blended together over the span of about a week.  Familiar faces passed by, stayed, left and returned as days rolled from one to another and time seemed to stand still.  

Paul, one of the nightly regulars, occasionally spent the night in the attic after the festivities paused briefly in the wee hours of the morning.  On this one occasion, he was supposed to meet his father at work by 7a.m.  It's possible that those asleep in the attic all awoke at the same time, although it's more likely that we were roused by Paul focusing on his watch.

"Shit!  It's almost noon!"

It was a more pleasant sound than the squawking siren noise that most alarm clocks make.  A few yawns and stretches and the realization that nothing would make Paul arrive on time, we descended the stairs to start another day with a pint of Guinness.

Paul opens the door that leads to the pub and darts back, wide-eyed, into the shadows of the stairwell, "My dad is standing at the bar!"  

Paul races back up the stairs to the floor between the pub and the attic and exits by the side door in the kitchen. The rest of us stumble into the pub, passing Paul's father, who inquires about his son's whereabouts.  "Um... I saw him last night,  he said something about work."  Meanwhile, Paul races down the steps on the side of the building and enters through the pub's front doors, greeting everyone with a friendly, "Top o' da mornin', lads!"

It's always nice to greet a friend you've not seen in a while, even if that while only amounts to a few minutes.


In Amsterdam, I discovered Potter's Original candies, little millimeter drops of licorice packaged in a black metal tin.  From a traveler's point of view, they were awesome for holding me over until I got a chance to brush my teeth.  Not knowing if I would ever find these magical little mouth cleansers in Canada, I stocked up on a supply before leaving Holland.

So, after a few days of Guinness drinking (and I vaguely recall the odd meal was eaten here and there), I dug out my tin of Potter's and passed a few little candies around.  Conversation turned to polite opinion on the flavour and the temporary sensation of a clean mouth.    

And then, I had a sip Guinness.

The combination of Potter's and Guinness creates this rich, vaguely sweet flavour, almost like a vanilla milkshake.  It's a good thing I had lots of tins with me because everyone soon wanted their own supply.  In addition to the collection of pint glasses and ashtrays on the table, Potter's mints became an essential staple of the Carrig's drinking team. 

• ¤ •

"We arrived in December and London was cold,
We stayed in the bars, along Charing Cross Road.
We never saw nothin' but brass taps and oak
Kept the shine on the bar with the sleeves of our coats..."