The next day, we picked up a rental car and made our way toward the opposite coast of Ireland, where towns such as Dingle and Doolin boast reputations as caretakers of traditional Irish music. The roads became progressively narrower and more treacherous as we traveled farther from Dublin, but the views were unlike any we had seen back home. They were rugged. And beautiful.
We drove past miles of grass colored an impossible, deep, lustrous shade of green; hillsides bursting with wildflowers, despite the cool weather; and rocky coasts striking in their desolation.
We arrived in Dingle and stopped into Murphy’s Pub for a massive helping of beef and Guinness stew, perhaps the most common menu item in pubs throughout Ireland. (Shepherd’s pie, by contrast, is a fairly uncommon sight, despite its prevalence in Irish pubs in the States.)
Looking for an after-dinner drink, we made our way to Dick Mack’s, a pub that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played dual roles as a shoemaker’s shop by day and a pub by night. Now it is just a pub, in the same sense that Maidhc Dainín Ó Sé, a 68-year-old, white-haired man who is sitting at the bar when we arrive, is just a musician. Despite having only a few small rooms, Dick Mack’s is one of the most famous pubs in Ireland. And old Dainín Ó Sé, a friendly, wisecracking part-time accordion busker, is the author of 11 books, all written in his native Irish tongue, though one, House Don’t Fall on Me, has been translated into English. He drank hard cider and talked with another old man at the bar, speaking back and forth in the flowery language of the island. Deeper into the pub’s front room, a trio of bearded, unkempt fishermen, one still in his waders, drank beer and stank of the sea. Beyond them, down a hallway in the back room, a group of men smoked and drank and talked — no, shouted — about politics.
I ordered a pint of Guinness, sat down next to Dainín Ó Sé, and we began to chat. After a few minutes, an American dressed in jeans and a denim jacket and sporting a gray ponytail walked through the door. He and Dainín Ó Sé greeted each other like old friends, and I quickly learned that the American, Frank Faulkner, had been living in Dingle for more than a decade, though he still teaches journalism online for the University of Massachusetts.