Recently there was an online post written by an American (to other Americans) who had spent a year living in Britain and Ireland about some of the differences between the continents. Apart from being awfully funny to us local yokels, there were scraps of insight, as you might expect, of how others see us. One of those scraps went along the lines of; 'A bar is called a pub and is actually a sort of communal living room.' All the people I have repeated this to have firstly laughed and secondly agreed.
On Friday night last in Ellen's that was particularly apparent. It was a filthy night out, lashing rain, too dark for the moon to be seen, and the wind rising to gale force. In fact the wind was so strong that the front of the pub was bolted closed and everyone was splashing through the mud to the back to get in...where else but the West do you try every door in the pub to see which is open? As a result there were only about fifteen or so die-hards crammed into the small dimly lit front bar, elbow to elbow with fiddles, bodhrán, guitars, an accordion and a dancer. The drink was flowing alongside the music and of course, coming up to Hallowe'en, there had to be ghost stories.
Now the thing you have to understand about Irish ghost stories is that they are a most singular genre; they can be startling, horrid, gory, fearsome, suspenseful, true, imagined, but are as likely to end in laughter and argument as tingling fear. In fact, the one thing they generally are not, is macabre, although you may want to check under the beds when you get home...also, to an academic, they often have no beginning or end or apparent resolution. A really good Irish ghost story is as much the starting point for conversation as a story in itself, and there was never yet an Irishman who didn't have an opinion and like to hear himself propound it!
And so it was that we told ghost stories, and, being western Irish, we told true stories as well as imaginary ones, and laughed, and looked to each other for more. And then back to the music, some poetry, insult and laughter, more music, and then, refreshed, back to the real world of driving rain, wind and the road home.
Yes, the Irish communal living rooms are as alive and well as their music and their story telling.