Malt, melancholy and Mayo

Here I sit perched on a bar stool in Boston, a sprig of shamrock in my lapel. Like a poet in exile, I’m marooned in the quiet realm of recollection. On this day the pathways of my mind are strewn with memories of Mayo. It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and it’s the dreams of Ireland in which my mind does dwell. The procession of green pageantry passes by the window. Spectators assemble in huddled anticipation as men and maidens of the Gael, freckled and fair march with swagger and pride. I stare out the window and my mind does wander, across the perimeter beyond the yonder. I lift the amber jar in silent salute to old Hibernia and to my fellow diaspora wherever they reside. I see Mayo now through a pitcher of beer and with a swig and cig the picture becomes clear.

I’m walking along the shores of Carrowniskey. The dipping sun suggests the ending of another day. Yet it’s slow to hand over the day’s memory to a conquering horizon. I remember once as a child how the figure of a mermaid carved into the wet sand caught my eye and how I marvelled at its precision, the way her body was masterly wrapped in the wet sand. I sighed at the thought of a thieving tide stealing her away, washing her home. The imprint of her visit is no more.

I recall looking out my window on Christmas Eve. The charcoal night. The silvery white of a December moon. I see its creamy glow on my window-sill. I see a sprig of holly in its red beret, tailored, immaculate in my proud lapel. I yearn for that again. The mistletoe now drooping and damp no longer invites the once poster boy of those halcyon days. I long to see once again the robin wrestling with the wild sloe, albeit soon to be evicted by the wren of St Stephen.

Sitting here foraging in the forest of my mind for those sweet berries scattered on the floor of memory’s sweet youth I remember in prose but it feels I lament in poetry. I’m drunk in sweet nostalgia as the day tapers off. Approaching closing time with its Guinness sponsored wisdom and its directionless folly the memories in my glass jar refuse to drown me yet. Maybe it’s the whiff of a strong counter mahogany veneer or the sweet pungency of tobacco and tar that makes me still lucid in this hazy abode of reminiscence. Perhaps it’s the shiny glint of the spectre of The Sam Maguire over the horizon crossing the Shannon back home to the Plain of the Yew Tree. There it is, sparkling in her silver shimmer. Its splendour, almost immaculate like a shining bride soon to be carried over the threshold once again to rest on Mayo’s warm bosom.

The pangs of longing to be back home in my home town, Castlebar, penetrate me even more on days like this... My mind’s camera still pictures the peaceful serenity of Lough Lannagh and its environs. The ambience and creation of this place was a feast for the senses. I recall how on carefree, idle, days the natural lens of my eyes used to focus and capture the changing colours and shades of this natural oasis as time passed by. The beautiful calm of  ‘the lake’, as it was locally known and still is I’m sure, served a perfect antidote to that busy maelstrom of hurrying humans packed in cars with  tired eyes speeding through their daily toils and thankless tasks. I loved its waters in its mid-morning flow, sullen and serene in its charcoal glow. 

Oh too how I wish with the swish of a magic wand somehow to be back home on The Mall, watching St Patrick's parade snake around its curvy rim on its journey through the centre of the town — The Mall is the town’s jewel in the crown, nature's giant open air clock powered by the ever moving sun and turning of the seasons. Nature’s colour chart always used to lend a new hue to its face even on the dullest day.

And so once again the evening grows taller and the shadows of a Boston night kidnap the day. The sun sets fast. It’s closing time and the music is fading out. Into the cold Boston night I stumble, under the wagging finger of a smiling March moon. Into the green neon groove of the metropolis I slowly journey home, my mind warmed by the malt intake of a merry day. The traffic hisses by. The moon no longer lights my way. The natural compass of the stars is replaced by reflective signage and the noise of night. The debris of the day is evident on the sidewalks. People disperse and unpitch their dreams of Ireland for another year. I watch two drunken maidens swagger and sway in a merry dance.  Once they danced at the crossroads but now they collapse at the traffic lights. The night grows colder now and its dark cold arms wrapping itself around me spurs me home.

Next year I will taste the sweet nectar of home for real I say to myself. Next year I will not spend my day on a bar stool pan-handling in a stream of memories. No longer will I perennially sacrifice myself at this alien altar of homesickness and nostalgia. Next year will be different I convince myself. Next year, I will walk home under night’s natural illumination, guided by St Patricks Irish moon, I promise myself. Next year, Oh next year!!

But I say the same thing to myself every year……for 23 years now.

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