Feeding Vanessa the Kudu breakfast


One of the tribe

Friday, October 2, 2009


On Sunday, Larry burst into our local (pub) as if his pants were on fire and boomed, “Where you’ve been, you beautiful creature from hell?!” Everyone seemed to feel he was talking to them; even Tiger reached up to be swooped into Larry’s arms, but it turned out he had eyes only for Tanya. Tanya who, in her fifties, has but six teeth to her name.

As I watched their reunion unfold at Kiely’s, though, I was taken by how Tanya’s demeanor and body language changed. Suddenly, I glimpsed the fetching girl she must once have been as she giggled and shied away from and slapped at the veteran hands Larry offered. Quite a pair.

Just around the corner from where I live, Kiely’s, a famous rugby bar in Dublin that’s just down the road from the Leinster Team and the Bective Rangers Club for which my father played, boasts many a colorful character. Most of whom prefer the old-style Ciss Madden’s, a traditional pub which serves as Kiely’s sitting room.

On any given Sunday afternoon, Tiger and I head to Ciss’s for the papers, cappuccino, a Ribena and toastie for my son (black currant juice and a melted ham and cheese special with tomatoes and onions), or an Irish coffee for me on a particularly brutal winter’s day. (And winter lasts a long time in Ireland. Wet as Lake Michigan and bone-marrow chilly, the cold so permeates your entire being, your senses cloud over, frosted. It’s no wonder whiskey is the country’s preferred elixir; nothing else will melt you.)

Back to Ciss’s. It’s a classic neighborhood haunt and Sunday is no exception. Vera and Ian, a widow and son duo with a love of lattes, are usually stationed in the corner and eager to visit with me and Tiger, as we are with them. We talk cruises, house happenings, work, family and a smidgen of delicious Donnybrook gossip. (Long ago, Vera and her husband had a favorite table at Ciss’s. When he passed away, the pub gave the table to his wife as a keepsake.) A true Gentle Ben, Benny often comes in, fumbling for a bit chat. According to one source, Benny had a twin who got all the brains and “he got none of them.” But I find that Benny possesses a certain and solid knowingness. Last week, Tiger wasn’t with me. “Where’s Timmy?” he asked. “What do you mean?” queried Vera. “Oh, he means Tiger,” I replied. “Taidgh is the Irish for Timothy.”

“Tiger, Tiger, come here boy-o and give us a hug!” chimes Stephanie who often works the bar. With her sleek black hair and huge green eyes, she’s a fetching colleen and has become one of Tiger’s favorite babysitters. In fact, she’s now one of our favorite people in Dublin. Then there’s Jonathan, the pub manager, known for his warmth and jiving and over-the-counter freshness with the locals. He’s also known for his inimitable ways with danger, always narrowly escaping death himself while leading others to near-destruction. Last spring, in the Wicklow Mountains, our friend Scorch took a mad tumble off a bicycle when Jonathan braked unexpectedly to a full stop. Scorch hit a tree, flipped over a ditch landing upside down, and broke assorted pieces as Jonathan looked on innocently.

And on an early Friday evening, many of my neighbors and shopkeepers (the cobbler, the barber, the beggarman/thief) can be found toasting life as we know it in Ciss’s nooks and crannys. Adam also hangs out during happy hour. A Ryan O’Neal lookalike, he’s got a way with the ladins (Irish diminutive for lad, of course). “Howza (How are you?), you little beast? What’s your mummy done to you now?” he wants to know, dangling a ripe set of keys in Tiger’s face. My wee one leaps with particular joy.

I won’t go into it here right now, but fair warning: When a rugby match is on, whether it’s an All-Ireland game or a European match, Kiely’s and Ciss’s are what my friend Teresa calls “heaving.” Bursting at the seams with boys and girls, men and women, in a frenzied state of hullabaloo. They spill, just as their pints do, into the mean streets, assuring the entire neighborhood of ruckus and rawhide.

Yes, Ciss’s has been home to many a scene in the years I’ve lived in Donnybrook. This past year, Tiger has often been with me. But before he was with me, about 18 months ago, I was talking excitedly to Jonathan about my impending trip to Kazakhstan to adopt a son. The father of two young boys, he nodded and smiled, adding, “Ah sure now, if he’s any trouble, just bring him ‘round here and we’ll rare him.”

Hmmm. Tiger being reared in our local? That he is, in a way. The locals have so welcomed him to the neighborhood, embracing him with gusto and good cheer, fuss and fondness, casting Tiger under their spell once and for all. My ladin who came from so very far away to become family.

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