There are a great many enduring images of Ireland; breath-taking scenery freshly misted by gentle rains, lichen-stained Celtic Crosses in the ruins of medieval monasteries, fading Georgian splendor from the days when Dublin was a jewel of the Empire and a green and lush country of pious and happy folks just waiting to be friendly. But it was very different growing up there.
I often reflected on this, sitting in Grogan’s of South William Street where the seeds of Lagan Love were sown. Grogan’s, aka ‘The Castle Lounge,’ had inherited a literary tradition from McDaid’s – the preferred local for many of the great Irish writers of the 1950’s.
The flight of the faithful
It was in 1972 that Grogans became a favored meeting place for cutting-edge Irish writers of the time. Renowned barman Paddy O’Brian, formerly of McDaids pub, began working in Grogans bringing with him regular customers of McDaids including the likes of poet Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien, J.P. Donleavy, Liam O’Flaherty. Thus cementing Grogans popularity amongst the citys’ artistic avant-garde . . . http://www.groganspub.ie/?page_id=7
I wandered in a year or two later to meet with my great friends, Joe McPeak, Jimmy Neil and Shuggie Murray, all refugees from Glasgow, and Emmanuel Greenan who had fled the troubles in Belfast for the relative peace of Dublin.
We liked to sit in the little nook near the door and in time were dubbed ‘Scot’s Corner’ by Paddy O’Brian, himself.
Our conversation was always varied, influenced by the great literariness of the place and interspersed with Jimmy’s acerbic tirades against Fascism and Capitalism; Shuggie’s unquenchable humour, Joe’s ancient mysticism and the occasional nod from Emmanuel who was taciturn.
We talked about all that troubled the world but we had reassurance – it had all been done before. History was our great source of comfort as the world seemed to spin out of control. But the history in Grogan’s was very different from that which the Irish Tourist Board would have you believe. There were no leaping leprechauns around – they were barred from the premises - and those who clung to pious subservience kept their impositions to themselves.
No! The smoke filled air of Grogan’s was pristine.
There my young and confused self could glimpse another reality – the one that artists speak of – the truth behind the veil! We were the descendants of the Celts – those proud and noble tribes that defied even the Romans who had to build a wall to limit their expansion and to keep us out. At least that’s what they did when they encountered the Scots – they didn’t even dare set foot in Ireland!
But we had suffered too. Years of harassment by the Vikings and then the Normans had left us beaten but unbowed. It was as clear as the little red glow at the bottom of a good pint. But we had turned all of that suffering into Art – music that would make a stone cry and gentle poetry of defiance against the numbing consumerism the world was scurrying towards.
I would capture all of that and put it in a book! I would leave a record of the lives and times of the great ordinary people who knew far more than the wise. I would – right after I had another few pints!
Lagan Love did not see the light of day for another forty years but like good wine, it had to settle and mature.