How an American Grandmother Discovered Guinness For The First Time!
It’s no secret that Americans have a deep fascination with Ireland. With many people claiming Irish descent they swarm Ireland every summer making the bulk of Ireland’s tourism industry. Many Irish students go to enjoy sunny American beaches on their J1’s as Americans come over to see our monuments and partake in our culture. One woman who loves Ireland even has a daughter and son-in-law whose house she gets to stay in! Yippeeeee! That very woman is my own grandmother whom I spent one special week with, one we won’t both soon forget. How could you? Nobody can. It was the week of the Fleadh Cheoil 2016.
Our first day together was spent eating delicious chocolate candies she brought in her purse as she slept off that cruel jet-lag. It was hard to voice any complaints as I tried my best not to swallow whole any Twinkies or Hostess chocolate cupcakes, though I’ll admit I breathed through a couple of them. I figured the best way to make the most of the following day was to have an Ennis walking tour – to tick off any typical tourist checklist, see any monuments dedicated to the Potato Famine in Ireland and absorb all the unique medieval aspects of this breathtaking town. This was exactly what she wanted but, of course, there was a behemoth on it’s way ready to shake and rumble any of her preconceived notions of Irish culture and I was more than happy to jump in with her head first.
The first few days of the Fleadh Cheoil were monumental. We started off each day with a big meal before heading straight into town in the afternoon. By the time we had even reached the beautiful Mill Road Bridge we could hear the fervor. Excited shouting over traditional Irish music with people of all ages dancing and playing instruments were the sights and sounds that have stuck with her the most. For me, it was all of the people I’ve grown up with walking around with cups of saliva-tingly delicious Irish beverages with smiles from ear to ear. Of course, my grandmother isn’t much of a drinker so we stuck to the sights and sounds… For the first few days, at least.
Fortunately, our tours of Ennis landed her a hand as she suggested pubs and gatherings suited to her tastes. We landed in Knox’s Pub. Typically, the woman can’t stand a crowded pub like that but even the hardest shell couldn’t be cracked by the energy that quaint pub contained. It was what happened next, however, that truly awwed me. She asked for a pint of Guinness. The drink so commonly associated with Ireland. One that I’d only just became friendly with myself. She didn’t ask for any half-measures, either. No Ribena and Guinness, not a sip out of mine or my father’s. Her own cold glass with the creamy head. The barman having taken notice of this small American woman packed in with ferocious youths took notice and was happy to deliver his finest work. And she loved it. She adored it! Her first pint of Guinness and I thought she’d hate it. After all, it’s an acquired taste. She loved it, and so dawned the final phase of our trip beginning with the weekend.
For those that don’t know, the weekend of any Fleadh Cheoil is it’s biggest. It’s when the cavalry arrive to the infantry, when the flocks combine with the masses. Really, it’s the big competition phase where traditional musicians from around the world compete to win medals and acclaim. It’s also very messy, when people extract anything left from their energy stores. Messy is a good thing for us. It means that people have forgone their social courtesies and let loose and wild. She wouldn’t have had it any other way. If it’s possible that one can deage, then so my grandmother rekindled her youth and drank Guinness from pub to pub only letting up to dance and take pictures. This “messy” stage of the night put us in good graces with Frenchmen, uillean pipers and the parents of friends I’ve shared my life with, and the friends, too. It’s safe to say she was an icon, a star of the show, and surely put me in the high respect of people I’ve always adored.
The Fleadh Cheoil might not come back to Ennis for awhile, but the mark its left is undeniable. Take any of the Ennis Walking Tours (especilly if Ollie is the leading man) and ask them for a story of the Fleadh Cheoil. If you can draw them back to reality from their wistful reminiscing they’ll surely have a tale to share with you.
Written by Kieran Cunnane (with help from his Grandmother!)