I drink no cider,
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in a letter to his wife Abigail
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CARLOW (18 May 2005)
Down among the dead men.
Let us consider graveyards. Places of sorrow, obviously, when being employed for their ultimate purpose. But also places for contemplation and repose when inspired by bittersweet regret or the healing joy of fond memory. And in my halcyon days, I do believe I heard rumors that the local burial grounds were also considered a convenient and safe haven for the consumption of illegal alcoholic beverages and, um, amorous activities. Not that I'd know anything about all that.
And, given proper conditions, I've learned of late that a graveyard can also be a place where a man can seriously humiliate himself and be left to take questionable consolation in the fact that at least he'd provided proper amusement for his companions.
We set out at 9:30 AM on Wednesday for St. Mullin's Heritage Center in Carlow for a guided tour, in light rain, of the old graveyard there. The photo immediately below will give you some sense of the place.
The second photo, directly above, is important for the green hillside--let's call it a grassy knoll--in the left background. Also take note of Gregg Glaser, in the very center, with the black raincoat down to his ankles, making him look like nothing so much as Arte Johnson in his role as the "dirty old man" forever hassling Ruth Buzzi's "Gladys Ormphby" on the Rowan & Martin's Laugh In TV show of yore. I screwed it up and said Buzzi was the old man when I first called attention to Glaser's outfit and that played in to a funny comment (one of many) offered by "Beer Dave" (foreground, immediately to Gregg's right) one afternoon in London. We'll get to that.
You will note that these photos reveal that , like a good journalist, I'm standing apart from the crowd, observing rather than participating. And, indeed, I wandered away from the formal tour for the most part, exploring the graves and structures on site on my own. I had noticed that tempting grassy mini-mesa when we first arrived and were told that these manmade hillsides were there for sentries, who could see approaching enemies from that elevated viewpoint. I had a passing thought that it might be nice to climb up there and, when I rejoined the main party and saw that about a half dozen of our number were indeed standing on top, decided it definitely was a good idea.
What I didn't know was that they had gone 'round the other side where there was a lesser inclined, more manageable path to the top. I, however, attacked the hill in front of me, climbing alongside a narrow, muddy path that looked entirely too slippery to take. Let's see now: leather soled loafers, wet grass and mud and a challenging incline under the best of circumstances. You'd think I'd have though this out, no? But it wasn't until about half-way up, slipping and sliding, that I said to myself, damn, it's gonna be a real bitch getting down from here.
At that very moment, my feet flew out from under me, throwing me flat on my stomach and knocking my glasses off and onto the muddy path. I slid down several feet then half scrambled/crawled almost upright and moved upward again, toward my glasses. This time my feet went out the other way and down I went onto my back, sliding the very bottom of the hill (in my best move of the day--not that there were many--I grabbed my glasses as I went by).
The watching crowd stood stunned, none of them quick enough to pull out a camera and get a photo, more's the pity. I mean, if you're gonna make an ass of yourself, why not have a record of it. But the falls apparently looked worse than they were so there was some concern that I was injured. Indeed, the ever-responsible Ms. Barto later admitted that she thought: Great, now I'm going to have to deal with insurance and sit in a hospital room with this fool.
God, women are so sympathetic when men make fools of themselves. Really, they are. Just listen...
You're completely daft! If you were just a wee lad, I'd smack you on the head.
Those were the first words out of the mouth of the Irish lady, part of the tour guide group, who scrambled down to greet me as I stood up at the bottom of the hill and began brushing and picking mud from my body. What in the world did you think you were doing? Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Everyone else repaired to the bus, giggling and laughing and having a good old time, while she led me back to the rest rooms and with paper towels, a hair dryer and pure force of will, cleaned me up as best she could. And none too gently.
The morning proceeded apace, while I contemplated how to restore my dignity, then gave it up. What was, was. Our next stop was Graignamanagh to tour an historic church there. We were greeted by its custodian and historian, a man named John, 80 years of age, who presented his story in great detail, much of it consisting of reiterations that his name was John and he was 80 years old. That was entirely believable.
Following lunch and brief period walking around Graignamanagh on our own, highlighted by Steve Westley handing a bartender $10 US for several pints and having the man reply What's this? And what's it worth? (we were well off the beaten track here), we finally arrived at the point of the whole two days, a visit to the Carlow Brewery.
Most of what I have to say about Carlow Brewing and O'Hara beers will, as I noted early on, be the basis for the stories I should be writing instead of this. This one and the one about the visit to Budvar and other things in the hopper or on the way, not least of which is a piece about cask ales, will mostly appear in the pages of Celebrator Beer News. When that will happen, given all the material I have in hand, isn't entirely clear; I'm pushing to make the next one an "All-Jack" issue; editor Tom Dalldorf does not seem that enthused. But ya never know...
What I will say here is that Carlow Brewing, which was founded in 1998, is located in a neat old train station at the far side of town (a designation which, I guess, depends on where you're standing) and is as reminiscent of an American micro as any place you'll likely find in Europe, right down to Dad doing some of the deliveries and the whole family being involved. This photo shows Seamus O'Hara, director and founder, and brother Michael, brewer behind the bar in the very nice Tasting Room which is available to guests.
I know they're difficult to make out, but take a gander at the tap handles. Emerald Isle, on the left, is a cask ale, brewed for export to England; Keltz, in the center, is a very good unfiltered version of their Curim Gold, Ireland's first wheat beer (which used to be brought into the U.S. and may well again some day); Seamus became enamored of wheat beers in California back in the early '90s and it was one of the first brews they did. Finally, that's O'Hara's Celtic Stout at far right.
Near the end of our visit, we posed Seamus, wife Kay, Michael and sister Siobhan on stools in front of the bar for photos and then I sat down on one to have a final beer. looking me right in the eye, Seamus--who'd been with us the entire day and seen my inglorious mudslide--cautioned You be careful now and don't fall off your stool. He would not be the last brewery executive to unleash a vicious personal attack on me, as it turned out...
Dinner that evening was notable for two things, the unique derivation of the name of the place where we dined--Las Rada--it was originally "La Strada" but a Dublin pub with the same name objected--and a stunningly attractive young waitress, painfully young, I'm afraid, but eye-catching enough that Beer Dave and other reprobates kept urging me to ask her questions so she'd come stand at our end of the table. I did the best I could, 'cause that's the kinda guy I am.
A quick beer or two at Lord Bagenal bar and then everyone was off to bed. We needed to be on our bus and on the way to the airport by 5:30 AM for the flight to London.
Next: A Discovery in London Town
4. Parliament Days, London Nights
5. We'll Always (Almost) Have Paris
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