Last week I made my way down to a gig in the legendary Connolly's of Leap (Established in 1780) which has re-opened after a long stint. Connolly's is in the tiny West Cork village of Leap, a tranquil one street town in the heart of the Rebel county and under it's original owner, Paddy McNicholls, the bar/venue saw up to 230 gig per year and recorded some of the best Irish bands of the nineties. The last gig I was lucky enough to witness there were the Dublin Punk bands Striknein D.C. and Indecent exposure (I'm sure no-one who attended that gig will forget why Indecent Exposure were so named...) Heady days they were and only the most adventurous souls would hop on the magical mystery bus to take the trip out of the big smoke and to the land beyond the Law. It was great to get down there again after all these years to see it has not been changed even a tad by the new owner Paddy's son Sam.
Anyhow, Connolly's is by no means the only pub in the village, nor even the best. That accolade has to go to the small 'Old man's bar' at the end of the village that goes by the oddly contradictorary name of 'The New Inn'
Thirsty for a pint before our gig started I ventured in with a friend to check out the scene inside, I had brought a camera for the gig and so had it over my shoulder. It's a one room bar with the bar counter facing the door and only two tables beside it. A functional and simple bar, brightly lit in keeping with many an Irish old mans bar. There was about ten 'aul lads at the bar and I spotted two empty seats so made a bee line, thinking I'd jump straight in to the scene with an ice breaker "The chairs free lads?' The answer would give me a quick indication as to the level of welcome that would be extended to strangers, though I was nearly sure we'd be grand. And of course we were grand 'Sit away boy, your name is on 'em' was the reply and straight away we were engaged in conversation with our immediate neighbour, a Dairy farmer who over the duration of just two pints told us of the fierce intelligence of his Cattle (I believed every word) his love of them and finally of his little industry at home that if we were ever in want of a sup of the harder stuff we now knew where to get it. (It seems totally ridiculous in this day and age that the distilling of the age old moonshine known as Poitin, made from potatoes, is still illegal and underground.)
I've been abroad for the last while recently and whilst a found most people where I was very friendly I have to say that nothing compares to the feeling of warmth and welcome in a real old Irish Public house. Within minutes we were chatting with the whole bar, laughing and joking and supping the finest of pints of Murphy's stout. Don't get me wrong, an Irish bar can be a downright miserable place too, depending on all kinds of factor but mainly the Proprietor and also the clientele.
Inevitably the conversation turned to the sad passing of the real local bar in Ireland and it's causes and consequences. It's the conversation that always comes up but gets killed off quite quickly because it's just such an unhappy conversation, albeit one that needs to be had. 'Changing times' is the common refrain, 'Changing world, where's it all gonna end up?'
One of the men spotted my camera and I asked if I could take a picture of him, he laughed and pointed to his drinking buddy saying 'Take a picture a him la, he loves himself!' and so I did, I took pictures of them both. Then I announced to the whole bar that I'd like to take their picture and they were just to ignore me and if anyone didn't want their picture taken just to tell me. No one asked. For just about 15 minutes I moved around the bar, and they did ignore me, as much as possible but the old lads did get a little sheepish in that sweet shy way but they all kept smiling. I felt the magic I sometimes do when I feel like I'm the first to ever photograph something. Not that the Irish bar hasn't been shot to death but at least this particular bar hadn't.
The owner came out with her two sons to have the family picture taken, the light was low and I had no flash so the images are grainy and a little blurred but I think I got it. It was such a lovely time with those funny and gentle souls. Salt of the earth as they say. Long may they live and long live the Irish bar, without it we'll all (mostly) be a little melancholy boy!
Needless to say I didn't have time to get any names but I'll be back, that's a sure thing.