The Crown Pub
Dec. 2006, The Herring Family Newsletter
I spent six weeks this summer in Dublin. Living in Rathmines, just south of the canal, I attended the Irish Writing Program led by Irish writers Martin Roper and Mary Morrissy with seventeen other students from across the U.S.
I hated Dublin. The canal was full of piss and trash and Dubliners stumbled the streets at night shouting at everyone walking by. It was like Iowa City except for the tourists. Jesus the tourists. They clogged the sidewalks while trying to figure out which McDonald’s to eat at on Grafton Street. Dubliners hate Dublin. The only people who like Dublin are Americans. Americans who only spend a week or two there. And Dubliners make fun of them for their troubles.
But I liked Ireland. We spent a weekend in Northern Ireland, maybe went through Monaghan County on the train but I can’t be sure. Spent two nights in a bed and breakfast on the northwest coast and watched the ocean crash into the land. It was postcard Ireland–green grass and violent cliffs and charming boats in harbor. The last day in the north, we toured Belfast. We ate lunch in private booths at the Crown Pub and wondered about strongly worded signs banning all football jerseys. After lunch, it was time for the black cab tour of the “trouble” areas. Visiting Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, we saw a land torn by religion and hate. Terrorists and killers are heroes. So are the innocent who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A wall divides the city like old Berlin, instead of dividing East and West, Communist and Capitalist, it divides Catholic and Protestant. A chain-link fence had to erected on the top of the wall because firebombs could still be thrown into the houses along Bombay Street.
But it isn’t all drama in the north. After leaving a Protestant neighborhood with the Union Jack and white and red flag of Ulster flying defiantly from every light and electrical pole, our cab driver told us a story about where we had enjoyed lunch.
“Remember the pub where you had lunch?” he asked.
“A husband and wife used to own it. He was Catholic, she Protestant.”
“Really?” I asked. “How did that work.”
“Well, times were changing. But at the same time they weren’t.”
We drove past a building with a huge mural of three masked men pointing assault rifles out.
“That’s our Mona Lisa,” he said, pointing to the mural. “No matter where you stand to look at that painting, the barrel of the gun follows.”
We laughed nervously. “Why would a Catholic name his pub after the Crown?” someone asked.
“Well,” he said, “that was the wife’s idea. If he was going to run a pub, it had to be named for the Crown.”
I smiled and looked out the window. Two children were climbing a giant pile of pallets to be burned on July 12th, Marching Day. Usually the most violent day in the north as the Protestant Orangemen march through rioting Catholic towns.
“The husband capitulated, but he had a condition.”
“What was the condition?” I asked.
He smiled and we drove past the most bombed hotel in all of Europe–a strange claim made proudly. “Did you happen to notice, walking through the front door, the crown on the floor?”
“No,” we answered. Who looks at the floor of a place?
“That was his condition. He would name his pub The Crown Pub. But he would put the crown on the floor for his friends, for them to spit on and piss on and step on the Crown every night.”
I laughed. “And she let him do that?” I thought the Crown would be akin to our flag.
“Of course,” he said. “She had to. He agreed to her condition, she to his.”
That night, back in Dublin, I slept and dreamed of nothing. I never want to go back.
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