It’s had a fair few paint jobs since we 1. won the raffle 2. set the place on fire 3. killed the fire with a pint and drank the raffle’s bottle of whiskey on the quays, but Slattery’s, once quite the tourist trap, is still going strong.
She makes her Christmas pudding in plastic containers, not like her mother, god rest her soul, who’d wrap the thing in cloth and let it hang and rock from her Singer sewing table.
Is the recipe secret? ‘No, I’ve got it on a piece of paper,’ she says, with serious intent. The same recipe for the last 30 years, involving carrots and sultanas and many other things. Whiskey, of course. Just a drop.
It isn’t ‘ripe’ yet, still a little soggy at the top, but Mrs Lynch tells the husband to serve us slices. ‘We’re out of cream,’ she says, despairing. But it tastes heavenly regardless. ‘You don’t have to eat it,’ she adds, almost incredulous we should eat her sticky black concoction. But we want to. Oh, we want to.
She stands on the porch as the husband drives us to the bus stop, in the freezing cold and forgets to wave, her mind already caught on other things. Like the neighbours’ daughter, who she used to mind, who now has a little wan herself. She’s in and out the door and regards Mrs Lynch’s front room her own. Didn’t they buy the DVD player when the little wagon said they should so she could player her Disney DVDs in it? They did.
We thank her for her kindness and the tea, fish and chips and buttered slices of bread, the biscuits and the cider and washing up when we said to leave it. But it’s no bother, didn’t the husband do the cooking?
So he did.
Seamus is a big elderly American of Irish descent. He is in level 2. Of course he takes the car to drive around the corner to go shopping. On the third day he has a puncture. One of the locals helps him out. In the shop I hear him, his voice booming, ask the shopkeeper how to thank his benefactor. ‘So what would he like? Shall I buy him a bottle of whiskey?‘ The shopkeeper and his son don’t say much. ‘He doesn’t drink,’ their answer is barely audible. ‘Well how about a box of chocolates?‘ Shoulders are shrugged. ‘Well, should I give him money? How much would be appropriate?‘ Seamus is at a loss. He doesn’t understand that you don’t talk about such things. His best bet would have been to pay the man a visit, and quietly leave a small present on the table.
Seamus takes Birgitta and myself for a drive around the area. We go up Bun Glas, a pass over the mountains. It is a scary drive, the fog is out and thick as peasoup. On the summit you’re supposed to have a beautiful view of the cliffs of Slieve League. But today we can hardly see the back of our hands. Seamus takes pictures of everything he sees. Even the fog doesn’t escape from his viewer. ‘I brought plenty of film, so I can show the folks at home.‘ His wife did not want to come along. Later in the Rusty Mackerel in Teelin – a famous pub the heart of the Gaeltacht – he starts telling us about how he used to beat his children. He didn’t know any better, he says, his father used to beat him too, and the nuns were no better. He confesses some more. Both Birgitta and I feel a little embarrassed. We feel we’ve just arrived in an Oprah Winfrey show. We’re not used to this American frankness. On the way back he asks us what language we speak in our countries. Dutch and Swedish, of course. ‘And do you speak it well, with your parents?’ He thinks the entire world speaks English. A few days later we take him along to see a formation of three pre-Celtic passage graves. When the sun sets, the light shines through the openings of the three graves. ‘Is that a fort?‘ he asks. ‘It’s a grave. Two thousand b.c., Seamus!‘ ‘Oh really?‘ he says and takes a picture. Then he’s off. Pre celtic times don’t mean much to someone whose own constitution’s just a quarter of a century old.