Jen and I are back from a family reunion in Ireland. Jen's family, that is, not mine.
Coming from a non-Catholic (or, in Irish parlance, atheist) family myself, I hadn't realised that this would involve 180 people, mostly first cousins, who all seemed to be named Mary, Joseph or Patrick. "A reunion of 180 people who've never met each other before," as one family wag put it. I think his name was Patrick.
I would be hard-pressed to name 180 people, let alone be related to them.
Still, we were made to feel very welcome after a near-disastrous start. When the bulk of the Yorkshire Contingent arrived en masse at the hotel, the receptionist informed us that we had been allocated rooms on the Turd Floor. "Oh good grief, grow up why don't you? Won't you people ever get over hundreds of years of British oppression?" I was about to shout at the poor woman. Just in time, I realised she was trying to say that our rooms were on the Third Floor. Simple misunderstandings like this are probably how The Troubles started. I still rue the day many years ago when I tried to chat up a beautiful, green-eyed, Irish colleen by asking her what made her tick. It did not have the effect I had hoped for easing Anglo-Irish relations.
Due to some mishap at the local water treatment plant, the water at the hotel was the colour of cloudy piss. For a moment, I thought our genial hosts had provided us with lager on tap. We were advised not to drink it, so I decided to see if I could survive the weekend on Guinness.
The reunion was scheduled for the Saturday night. On Friday, the Hebden Bridge Brigade went out for a Chinese meal, followed by a few pints in a local pub. It was the first time I'd been in an Irish pub since the smoking ban, and it was every bit as bad as I had feared. If this pub was anything to go by (and I have no reason to think it wouldn't be), the legendary atmosphere is pretty much gone. The neo-Puritan health Nazis have done to Ireland what the combined forces of Oliver Cromwell and the potato blight never could: they have destroyed the country's very soul. I hope the self-righteous vandals are pleased with themselves, as they sip their G&Ts in their lifeless, child-friendly, bio-degradable, vegetarian bistros.
Jen's brother and sister-in-law met us in the pub. They had travelled over separately and had spent Thursday evening in Dublin. They told us how, as in many other places in Europe, Dublin has recently had a huge influx of cheap labour from Poland. On the bus back to their hotel, everyone else was speaking in Polish. Jen's sister-in-law was delighted: "Listen! They're all speaking Irish!" she gasped. Jen's brother strung her along for a while, explaining how Irish is one of the easiest languages in the world to learn: "You just start with Bejaysus! and take it from there."
The reunion on Saturday went very well. At least, I'm pretty sure it must have gone very well. After about five hours, I discovered that I was in the zone with the Guinness, and the rest is a bit of a blur. I am reliably informed that I ended up on the dance floor at one point, which only ever happens when I am extremely in the zone.
Ireland will always hold a very special place in my affections. Jen's parents (Patrick and Patricia—you couldn't make it up) were both Irish, but I only have a minuscule amount of Irish blood, thanks to an errant great-great-grandmother named Bridget Kelly. My beard originated in Ireland, though, and that must surely count for something. But, in my heart of hearts, I will always remain a true Brit, and I had no real regrets returning to my homeland, where the beer is warm and the water is see-though.
See also: Photos from the Ireland trip