Three Free Beers

MB has just arrived back in the Middle East after two week break back home. Even if MB was not a native, he would still be impressed with Ireland and the Irish.

Take the following story for example, recounted by friend and HX follower TM to MB last week, over a glass of vino in front of a warm log fire in TM’s home. TM started his story as follows:

I went out to the local pub a few weeks back, drank three beers and didn’t have to pay for any of them.

TM walked to his favourite watering hole in the local HX village. MB has featured this particular pub in past posts. It’s called ‘Mary Howard’s’ after the owner, who is a charming local lady and who previously operated a bookie shop in the village. But the bookie shop days are in the dim and distant past and Mary now focuses her energies on operating her pub, which is something of a local institution. Punters travel from far and wide just to boast that they have frequented the establishment. The quality of Guinness served in the pint glass (for a man, and a half pint glass for the ladies) has no equal in the entire emerald isle according to aficionados and connoisseurs of the famous black liquid with the creamy white head. The pub interior is very traditional ‘Irish old world’ and is quite small in size. Intimate, might be a better description perhaps. The relatively cramped space means that whether friend or enemy has entered before you, you will have no choice but to engage them in conversation.

The initial small talk upon commencing any conversation with an Irish person, whether in a pub or not, must always revolve around the weather prevailing on the day in question. “Fine day” is very often the opening line, said with a small nod of the head. “Yes, but tomorrow might be wet” might be an appropriate response. And the conversation can literally go in any direction from there. With the formality of weather talk out of the way, the participants are then free to discuss sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, politics, the good or bad price for beef cattle at Kilmallock Cattle Mart last Monday, or whatever else might take their fancy.

On the night in question, when TM entered through the front door from the main street of the village, he was faced with two locals and a stranger. “Fine day” may have been TM’s greeting to all. But MB is not sure on this point, as MB & TM did not discuss trivia when they discussed the happenings in Mary Howard’s pub on this particular night.

Upon TM’s calling ‘a pint’ from the proprietor, the stranger suddenly volunteered that he was buying a drink for the house and TM would therefore not have to pay a penny for his order. MB must explain to non-Irish at this stage that ‘a pint’ is Irish-Speak for a pint of Guinness. If you wish to order a pint of Heineken, or any other beer in the entire world. you must state your specific requirement. But on ordering ‘a pint’ in any bar in Ireland you will receive moments later, following a peculiar pouring ceremony, a pint glass full to the brim with a black liquid in which the air bubbles travel downwards (MB is not kidding) and which is topped off with a creamy head approximately 2.5 cm in thickness.

Thanking the stranger for his kindness, TM enjoyed the first mouthful. The stranger explained that he had earlier that night attended a convention of the political party of which he was a member, and had hoped to get a nomination to represent the party at the next political election. His bid was not successful however as another was chosen, but life goes on and he was now in Mary Howard’s bar and had the notion to buy ‘a round for the house’ (Irish-Speak for ‘everyone in the bar at that moment’). TM sipped some more and enjoyed the free Guinness compliments of the failed politician.

One could surmise that the politician was just being a cunning politician, calling into a village where he was unknown and generating some publicity for himself with future elections in mind. But let us not join the ranks of the cynics. Let us only rejoice in the fact that TM and two other locals present on the night were the beneficiaries of some good fortune and were in the right place at the right time. “Of all the bars in all the towns” as Humphry Bogart might have said, had he also been in Mary Howard’s bar that night.

The conversation continued as the beers went down. And as all four glasses reached a state of lack of critical mass (ie – approaching empty), one of the other punters announced that he too was buying ‘a round for the house’.  Now this particular punter was a local farmer. And with money hard earned in the farming game, and large profits as rare as hen’s teeth, it is an even rarer occasion indeed that an Irish farmer will stand up in his local pub, or any pub, and announce that he is buying ‘a round for the house’. But he explained further.

I had some good fortune today with a scratch-card in the National Lottery” he announced to the assembled drinkers, which were only three in number in addition to himself. He refused to divulge how much he had actually won however, so TM and his fellow drinkers sipped their beers and wondered to themselves if the winnings were relatively small beer (forgive the pun dear followers) and only sufficient to purchase four beers, or whether it was a tremendously large amount and the farmer should actually be buying rounds every night for the next month, or even more.

The farmer, like all farmers, was a mind reader. Reading their thoughts, and maybe because one of their number was bold enough to ask, the farmer decided to play mind games with his fellow drinkers. He announced that he would not divulge the amount of his winnings which he had not yet collected, but he would show the winning Scratch-Card to the proprietor. So, as MB writes this post, and TM, the politician and the final member of the gang of four reminisce on that night of free beer, only the farmer and Mary Howard know the figure. The farmer knows full well that his secret is safe with Mary. A former bookie and bar proprietor knows a thing or two about keeping secrets. And farmers are not know for shooting their mouths off. So they will both go to their graves at some future stage and none of us will be any the wiser in relation to the scale of the winnings.

TM though that it was approaching the time when he would have to put his hand in his pocket. Free beer Nr 2 was fast disappearing and it was unlikely that lightening would strike the same spot three times on the same night. About a million to one though TM. But a million to one chance will come up on occasion. It will come up one in a million of course, and lo and behold, this night was that one in a million. Punter Nr 3 announced that he too was buying a beer for all before his departure.

We have not discussed Punter Nr 3 up to now, but he is also a local farmer who frequents Mary Howard’s bar from time to time. He probably though that the God’s had smiled on him on that particular evening and that to reciprocate the generosity of the others would only be decent and neighbourly under the circumstances. He duly ordered and paid for four beers.

But on draining his glass he announced to all present, without any further word of explanation – “this will be that last night I drink in this bar”. And with that he exited onto the street and to the best of MB’s knowledge has not returned. MB nor TM can offer no further, or any, explanation in relation to this dramatic conclusion to the consumption of free beer Nr 3. Nor shed any illumination whatsoever on the mystifying statement.

Following a period of further chat and banter the night came to an end. All drifted away and TM did not get a chance to buy back for his generous co-drinkers. For TM is a generous sort and MB is sure he would have done so had the Gods afforded him the chance. But they did not and he wandered home, following a night of interesting discourse in one of the finest bars in Ireland. TM will long remember the night of the three free beers.


PS – Thanks to TM for the story. And apologies from MB if he has used a little license in the telling.

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