DONEGAL, Ireland – “Oh yes, they’ve been celebrating downtown every night for a few days now. If it’s crack you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in Dublin.”
This was my introduction to Mrs. Crofton the innkeeper, and to Ireland in general. It had been my great fear that while in Dublin for spring break, I would have difficulty finding the drug that makes life back home so enjoyable. But the diminutive woman with the soft voice and bright eyes alleviated my worries.
Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that “craic” (pronounced “crack”) was not my narcotic of choice that Mrs. Crofton was referring to, but a term that means general good times to the people of the Emerald Isle. And good times there were, my friends. Oh yes. Oh yes.
Although I don’t think anyone would have originally believed it. The responses I received when I told people that Dublin was to be my spring break destination ranged from the bland, “oh, that’s nice” to the more brazen, “why, of all of God’s creation, did you choose cold and rainy Ireland?”
But the answer seemed so simple to me: I was headed to a country whose main exports are whiskey and violence, and I was going to be there March 17 – the final St. Patrick’s Day of the millennium. This was going to be a celebration worth remembering.
And it was.
My traveling companions and I began St. Paddy’s Day meandering through St. Stephen’s Green, a placid park in downtown Dublin. Music played, children frolicked and the grass was a bright shade of green, flawless and without a piece of trash in sight to detract from the visual experience.
It was an unusually warm day in Dublin – so much so that the next day’s newspapers declared it a miracle. Soon a parade would start that would rumble through the ancient city’s narrow streets. Thousands of onlookers lined the streets as children sold homemade Irish flags for a pound a piece.
The parade and the events leading up to it were, in a word, idyllic.
But as the day went on and the sun began to drop, the scene in Dublin became quite different. It was then that our old friend Al C. O’Hol made his grand entrance. From the moment the parade ended (roughly 1:30 p.m.), pubs and restaurants began overflowing with a sea of humanity.
One bar I visited resembled something akin to the first five rows at a Slayer concert. Arms flailing, voices raised and bodies in tumult, all moving to one focal point – the tap containing what James Joyce referred to as Ireland’s “vin du pays” – Guinness.
On this day, the frothy foam that accompanies any pint of Guinness often found its way to the floor, or at least the fingers of the tipsy pint holder. By 4 p.m. the city was a choppy sea of raised glasses, loud voices and broad smiles.
We decided to return to St. Stephen’s Green in an attempt to seek refuge from the city-wide throwdown. Figuring we would find the same sanitary green expanses we’d left earlier that day, shock quickly overcame us as we entered the park.
Try, if you will, to visualize all of the trash in the world. Now double that and you’ve got an idea of what the park looked like. Beer cans, bottles, plastic bags, broken pint glasses and corpses – piles upon piles of corpses littered the once-untouched virgin green grass.
OK, there weren’t any corpses, but you catch my drift.
The park appeared to be the epicenter from which the waves of celebration rippled outward. It was a scene that shall forever remain emblazoned in my memory.
The next day, in a bold block headline, all of the dailies proclaimed: “PATRICK’S NIGHT ORGY OF VIOLENCE.”
Apparently the emergency phone system of Dublin had received nearly 2,400 calls that night in response to the revelry. Although I personally had been witness to only two arrests, the papers spoke of countless acts of broken windows, fistfights and one instance of a man having been “stabbed in the face with a broken pint glass.”
If that’s not good “craic,” I don’t know what is.
So I don’t know where you sit as you read this. Perhaps the Quad, J Street or maybe you’re taking a break from the challenge of actually listening to your professor. But as I wrap up this “Spring Break Special Report – Dublin in Flames!” I sit in the town square of Donegal in northwestern Ireland. It was our only recourse – we had to escape the madness of the capital as martial law was declared and Irish authorities struggled against hoodlums and hooligans to restore order.
All right, that’s another lie. Everything is fine in Dublin, I can assure you, but there is more to this beautiful island than simply stabbing people with shattered glassware.
The skies here in Donegal are cloudy and foreboding, yet every shopkeeper is proclaiming this “a beautiful day.” Yeah. I’m half expecting the locals to don sunglasses and apply copious amounts of sunscreen to combat the few rays of sun that occasionally peek through the dense clouds.
And now the challenge begins – finding a fax machine in rural Ireland. Perhaps I should just wander down to the docks, roll this into a ball and toss it into the next ship headed to the States. My sincere hope is that some modern form of communication is out here. Or at least a well-trained pigeon.
So if you ever have the opportunity, get your “arse” (that means “ass”) over here for St. Paddy’s Day. Bring your riot gear and a healthy appetite for Guinness. And in the meantime, visit an Irish pub somewhere and ask in a low, quaint voice, “I’d like some of your finest craic.”
And if you don’t get arrested, you’ll be glad you did.