Friday, 13 May 2011

One afternoon in Grogan's

When the whole tribe had gathered we would set out, across the Green, though the trendy shopping crowd on Grafton Street, not far from the Dandelion Market and into the comforting corner of Grogan’s before last call.

Of all the absurdities that were drinking in Dublin there was one without parallel – the Holy Hour! I once tried to explain it to G who stared at me in disbelieve and asked, “Can we not go to a Protestant Pub?”

But I had to forgive her; it made little sense to me. Jimmy Neil had explained that it began in Britain during the Great War “to git the workers awae frae the pubs and back tae the munitions factories,” and his explanation suited us.

In Dublin, a two-hour closing was unthinkable so we settled for an hour and – as it was a period of abstinence – it was deemed holy.

I still marvel at the effect it had on the bar staff. At twenty minutes after two they would announce ‘Last Call!’ and we would all order two drinks each.

By law, we had ten minutes drinking up time but we never believed that this was meant to be taken literally.

From half past two until twenty to three we enjoyed our drinks in the calm before the storm and chatted quietly amongst ourselves or with the bar staff. But, on the unspoken command it would start.

“C’mon lads and finish your drinks.”

We, of course would ignore them and carry on in deep conversation until they became irate and stood over us as we gulped down the remainder of our stout.

I remember one such afternoon when we had sat, like the twelve apostles with Billy Cullen among us. Billy was a failed priest, I think, because the details are cloudy. He might have come from a Jesuit Seminary and was madder than the rest of us. Billy was a poet and a philosopher and wandered freely between genius and insanity. We had spent the last hour discussing the art of feeding the ducks in the pond in Stephen’s Green, right across the street from the Dandelion Market. As Billy watched us grapple with his logic he turned to poetry as we had literary pretensions.

“Feeding the ducks is an art I declare

To see that each duck gets no more than its share . . .”

Then Billy announced that on the previous Saturday morning that he had decided to end it all.

“C’mon gentlemen please, finish up your drinks!”

He was tired of the mediocrity of the world and its inability to comprehend his genius.

“Time now gentlemen please!”

But he could not leave the stage without one more flourish so he bought a bottle of sherry and went back to his rented room in the house of a nice couple that may have been distant relatives.

“Joe, Jimmy, Shuggie, would you finish your drinks, Please!”

Billy drank his sherry and selected Flamenco music for his grand finale.

“Time now! Gentlemen! Please!’

As the music and the dance neared its climax Billy prepared himself for his moment with destiny. But he was interrupted.

“Billy, what are you doing in there? There’s plaster falling off the ceiling downstairs and it’s after ruining the carpet.”

So Billy turned away from the white light and was given to menial labour, sweeping and dusting, and by the time he had finished his moment with destiny had passed.

It was five minutes past three and we were all ushered outside and we stood in the doorway searching South William Street for what we might do with the rest of our lives.

No clues were to be found that day so Billy started to explain the true message of Adam and Eve but he never got to finish.

At half past three the doors were reopened and we were all welcomed back into the Garden of Eden. And for a moment I tried to think on what had just happened but as it was my round.

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