I’m standing in the rain on a cold, dreary morning outside of Dick Mack’s, chatting with my queue mates. There’s nearly a hundred of us now, thirty minutes before the door opens at eleven. Dick Mack’s is an ancient pub on Green Street know for it’s whiskey selection and an honest pint. But today, during Feile Na Bealtaine, the town’s music and arts festival, it is the “Church of the Spoken Word.”
The question often posed is:
Where is Dick Mack’s?
Opposite the church.
Where is the church?
Opposite Dick Mack’s.
The door swings open and one hundred and fifty, maybe two hundred of us, crowd into the narrow space, jostling for position, leaning against the bar and perching on counters. This is nearly a tenth of the town’s population. The lady I’d been passing the time with says to me, “Will ye hold my spot?” and dashes to the bar, returning with a whiskey. Our host announces that this is the only day of the year that “You can drink before the Angelus Bell.”
Cheek by jowl and gill to gill
Some have whiskey to fight the chill.
Our host begins by paying tribute to a Monsignor from Galway, a Gaeltacht poet who was always in the front row of this church, but died shortly after the last gathering. “Not through any fault of our own,” the host explains. He reads a poem by the priest in Irish, translating parts of it as he goes. The poem laments the drowning of the poet’s brother, Miheal, in a fishing accident off the coast of Dingle. The poet hears his niece, Miheal’s daughter speaking at her father’s funeral, and writes one of the most achingly beautiful lines I’ve ever heard:
Her Irish is as pure as the longing in my heart for Miheal.
Poets and playwrights, novelist and actors read from their works. Musicians play interludes. Irish and English fly around the room. We laugh and cry by turns.
A novelist reads an excerpt from his children’s novel about monsters that is so frightening that some listeners order more whiskey, fearing for the poor children. A slam poet chants a rhythmic and passionate poem about finding so much success fighting “the man” that he becomes “the man.” A short story writer describes her Mayo home village as “a benign speck of a town that will devour your soul.” Two violinists play Lili Marlene and the crowd sings along.
A playwright, Mick Mulcahy, with the help of our host, reads a scene from his newest play, a raucous, ribald account of a fisherman cursing the Irish government, the European Union, and God himself over the drowning death of his first mate and best friend. The scene uses every variation and permutation of a favorite Irish word that it dazzles the audience. The playwright seems familiar, and then it dawns on me. Two, perhaps three, years ago, Sara and I had heard him interviewed on Radio Kerry about his play After Sarah Miles. That play was about the making of the film Ryan’s Daughter many years ago here on the Dingle Peninsula and the effects of the “fancy Hollywood crowd” on a vulnerable fourteen year old local boy. Now he reads before me in a crowded bar.
I find myself standing next to Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, a renowned poet whose work I have read for years. “I’ve had you on my bookshelf for thirty years,” I gush at her. She looks somewhat frightened. “Figuratively, I mean. Your books are on my shelf.” She smiles.
The morning draws to a close with a “found poem” read in Irish by a local farmer. He came across it in the rafters of his cottage, author unknown. Every Irishman is a poet. The farmer removes his cap before he reads.
We file out onto Green Street, each with our own thoughts, smiling. The sun is shining.