I felt sorry for Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, or Elizabeth Windsor if you are a republican. She is on a four day state visit to Ireland and, sadly, heavy security measures look like they will be keeping her “safely” away from Irish hospitality. It is one of the many reasons why I am very happy not to be a monarch or even a head of state. You miss all the fun.
As an Englishman/wolf of mainly Scots-Irish descent, I was happy that this visit is happening as it does have an historical significance and I go along with that old adage that if you don’t understand history then you are destined to keep making the same mistakes. So, great to see the Queen paying respects to all those people who have died due to the problems between two closely related nations.
It would be inappropriate, of course, for her to have asked the Irish President if, after all the ceremonial, they could both have nipped off to a local pub for a pint of Guinness. Or would it have been? I think the Queen will have missed out on the true Irish experience and, after a few drinks in a local bar, I think she has it in her to show that we, meaning the English here, have many things in common.
I remember when I was about to make my first visit to the Republic of Ireland, some time ago now when there were still “hostilities” in Northern Ireland, some well-meaning English friends advised caution. Be careful where you go, they warned, you don’t want to end up dead in a field somewhere. I have always been, I am afraid, a fool/fatalist in these situations and I ignored their advice before having one of the most enjoyable and memorable working trips in my television career.
There are many stories I could tell, maybe I will from time to time on these pages, but I have to mention The Moose Bar in what you could call downtown Limerick, then (and maybe now) Ireland’s least glamourous location. Whilst working on a documentary about the Irish economy, I made friends with someone who, rarely in our butterfly profession, became a good friend, Seamus Tobin, who was related to the landlord of this ostensibly unremarkable pub and it was there, on a memorable night, that I experienced the kind of hospitality that the Queen will never see.
I had been filming all day, a cold, wet West coast of Ireland day in November. I was also going down with the ‘flu. Standing in a field with the camera crew, I became a sound problem as my cough began to take over. The farmer’s wife was standing behind me and stepped in to interfere. I was invited in to the farmhouse for a sit in front of the fire and a glass or two of hot medicine. I couldn’t possibly call it poitin, or poteen, because the traditional Irish home-made potato whiskey, is illegal. It did the trick and I felt much revived for the next location which was the chapel of a local Benedictine monastery. After some time, the same problem recurred but one of the monks said he had just the thing. He rushed off to find a small leather case which he opened to reveal a flask of Benedictine brandy and a set of little shot glasses. This should help, he said, the Benedictine order have a vow of hospitality, and so I had my first experience of getting drunk in church.
At the end of the day’s filming, I had arranged to meet my friend Seamus and I told him that I was feeling ill and would just go back to my hotel. He refused to allow it and said he knew just what I needed so I was whisked (sic) off to The Moose Bar, full of poitin and brandy but still feeling bad and, in all honesty, unsociable. It was not long before my illness had been announced to the pub’s regulars and after many remarks from strangers that began with the words “any friend of Seamus….” etc., I was being “cured” by the infallible mix of Guinness and whiskey. Cured so much in fact, that I was allowed to take my turn behind the bar where, with generous if exaggerated flattery, I was told that I poured the best pint of Guinness that had ever been poured by an Englishman in Limerick.
I don’t remember much about the later part of that evening but the next day I awoke feeling hungover but without my ‘flu symptoms. Before the next day’s filming began though, I had to return to The Moose Bar, to try and find one of the lenses from my glasses that was mysteriously missing that morning. Sure enough, there it was, on the floor, behind the bar, just under the Guinness pumps.
They know how to look after folks in Ireland and, if any of you ever happen to visit The Moose, give them wolfie’s best wishes.
Oh, I forgot to tell you: some years later a notorious Limerick mobster, Eddie Ryan, was gunned down in that very bar – a killing that led to a brutal gang war – but don’t let that put you off – you will find the warmest of welcomes there if you check it out.