by Oona Intemann (United States of America)

Making a local connection Ireland


I have an Irish name. Though it’s nothing exotic it never fails to furrow brows, cock heads sideways, and morph into something different with every new attempt to address me. It’s pronounced the way it looks it should be – it has only four letters – so even as far as Irish names go, it could be worse. It also often misleads people into thinking I can speak the Irish language, or have spent childhood summers on a family farm in Tipperary (although I did take Irish step dance when I was young). In fact, the first time I went to Ireland was two years ago, when I was 20. I was not unlike many Americans in wanting to spend St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Dublin – except, for my friend and I, our holiday took place in a sleepy suburb of Dublin, a bus and a train ride away from the city, with scores of hills and unpaved roads and one small shop of which to speak. We arrived late to the apartment on the evening of the 17th, and the cloudy southwestern suburbs of Dublin were pin-drop quiet. It was cozy but lonely, and we soon found ourselves trudging along in the dark in search of any sign of life. What we found was a small pub at the top of the hill with its doors open, lights dimmed but bright enough to invite us inside. We were disappointed upon crossing the threshold – chairs were up on tables, and there were only three or four others inside beside the bartenders. We nervously asked if they were still serving, and the bartender shrugged: “Sure, why not?” We took seats by the bar under the watchful glances of what we quickly realized were local regulars unfazed by the holiday we were there to celebrate. I knew after ordering a drink our accents would blow any chance of laying low in unfamiliar territory. “You’re American, then?” A tall man stood up from his stool to offer his hand and ask our names. My friend gave hers – “Helen” – and I gave mine. “Ah, Oona,” he repeated, a smile beginning to form on his stubbled face. “Welcome home.” Jim, as he introduced himself, began asking questions about where we were from and why we were there, while the other few seated at a table nearby began passionately singing (and somewhat slurring) Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The quiet bartender, who knew Jim and his friends well, set down our drinks. Jim went back to join his group. Helen and I sat in silence, concerned that we were crashing the party. But the chorus of “American Pie” morphed into the beginnings of “The Auld Triangle,” and then “Danny Boy,” and after downing half my pint I found myself comfortable enough to join in to songs I didn’t realized I’d known all the words to. Jim ushered us over to join his group at their table, and the questions continued from his friends and neighbors. We answered honestly – that we weren’t paying much, that we didn’t have anything in particular planned – and the kind strangers assured us we couldn’t go wrong with what we were already doing. Anything else was touristy and overrated. They even helped us find a place to order pizza, the only food they told us would be available at that hour. We said our goodbyes and departed, but wished we could have stayed for another round and more songs. In the morning Helen and I walked along the same roads in search of the bus that would take us to the train. There were no sidewalks, and not much of a shoulder, so we were careful in teetering along a thin strip of grass that hugged the street. About 15 minutes into our walk, with no bus stop in sight, a car slowed down next to us and stopped. Helen and I froze and gulped, and turned to face the vehicle. The car window rolled down and Jim from the pub – with the same warm smile – waved from the driver’s seat. “You can’t be walking in the street like this, girls,” he said. “Get inside. I’ll take you where you need to go.”