Never Pass a Pub With Your Name On It: An Irish-American Story

We pulled up like it was our local watering hole. I swerved our rented Opel into the first parking spot out front and then my wife and I went inside.

Murray’s Pub — this Murray’s Pub — was in County Mayo, in a small town on the west side of Ireland. We had been here before. Not in the flesh. A month earlier, we sat on our basement couch thousands of miles away and took a virtual tour of our upcoming vacation. There were several Murray’s bars that we’d found on Google Maps and had hatched a plan to hit them all.

This one felt like walking into someone’s home. Historic photos hung on the walls. A black fireplace still had a pile of ashes spilling out. In the corner, by the door, a cane leaned against an empty bench seat, like the old-timer would be right back.

About halfway through our trip around the country, I had already had many Guinnesses, but I vowed to drink one in every pub we visited, so I placed the order. The bartender was like me: A twenty-something guy, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. For some reason that caught me a little off-guard. I suppose I expected an old Irishman, like you see in movies.

He stepped behind the bar and made my wife a Bailey’s coffee while he waited for my Guinness to settle. We sat at a small, round table and observed the scene. Amazon Music was streaming quietly over the speakers: Britney Spears, Motown, Dr. Dre, Chris Stapleton. Pretty much everything except traditional Irish music. At the end of the bar, the only three other patrons was a group of old men who looked like this weekday afternoon gathering was more a ritual than a rarity. Perhaps they were simply talking too fast, or perhaps they were speaking a local dialect of true Irish language. Regardless, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Nor could I understand our bartender when he served our drinks and thanked us for stopping in.

But when I took that first sip of Guinness — something I had done several times in the months and days prior — it was clear to both my wife and me that we had finally made it where we wanted to be.

Eight years earlier, during the winter semester of my freshman year at the University of Michigan, we were blessed with seventy-degree weather on St. Patrick’s Day. As one can imagine, the parties on campus raged. To that point, I had never tasted a Guinness — my beer knowledge went about as far as the Keystone that filled the frat kegs. My roommate at the time asked me if I’d ever had a Guinness before. When I told him I hadn’t, he walked me down to the corner store, went inside and bought a single can. “You’re gonna hate it,” he told me. And I did. We each took a sip or two, and then ditched the can in the trash.

In honesty, I cannot pinpoint when my tastebuds began changing in favor of Guinness. Over the years, I tried them here and there. I took some Irish Car Bombs with friends. What changed, truthfully, was not my love for Guinness — rather, it was a deepening appreciation for my ancestry, for understanding where I came from.

Part of that appreciation blossomed each St. Patrick’s Day. My father’s side of the family, the Irish side, would get together, wear green, drink green beer, sing the Irish Rovers. We didn’t do it because we needed an excuse to party. We did it because we genuinely loved celebrating our heritage.

Early in our relationship, when we were fresh-faced college kids, I dragged my wife with me to one of these St. Paddy’s bashes. She’s far too polite to admit the strangeness of an entire family chanting “Way, hey, up she rises!” in my grandparents’ basement. But what happened was far more special: my wife’s interest in her Irish heritage was also piqued.

The summer before our wedding we welcomed our first puppy home. We named him Rory, which means “red-haired king” in Irish. Rory is a red-tri Miniature American Shepherd.

Two years into marriage, the itch to finally visit Ireland became too nagging not to scratch. In March 2019, we lay in bed and booked our flights. We spent months planning the trip. It was all we thought about, talked about — I’m sure family and friends grew annoyed of us quickly. But this trip was more than just a vacation to an interesting place. It was a chance to live the history that formed our families.

When I told my boss about our planned vacation, she recommended a book called McCarthy’s Bar. She had read it a few years earlier when she went to Ireland. The author, Pete McCarthy, writes about a trip he took to the west coast of Ireland, during which he lived by one rule: “Never pass a bar that has your name on it.”

Inspired, I made a list of all the Murray’s Pubs I could find on Google. The list came to six or seven. My goal was to visit all of them. Did we end up doing it? No, we didn’t. We hit two — the tiny pub in County Mayo and a large bar in the heart of Dublin.

But along the journey, we circled the entire island, driving on the wrong side of the road, the wrong side of the car. We went to Kilkenny and Waterford and Cork and Blarney. We drove through Killarney National Park, up to the small coastal town of Lahinch. After the Cliffs of Moher, we headed up to Galway and over to Kylemore Abbey, driving through the beautiful Connemara Mountains, sheep in the road and everything — authentic Ireland. Heading north, we went through County Mayo and into Sligo and eventually up into Northern Ireland to see Mussenden Temple, the Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Hedges. Our hotel that night was downtown Belfast, where we visited the Titanic Museum before heading back to finish the trip in Dublin the following day.

That’s a lot — I certainly don’t expect that you know all of those places. What’s important is that we made some incredible memories, memories of a lifetime. On a trip to discover and celebrate our ancestry, my wife and I traveled hand-in-hand as best friends. We fell in love again in Ireland.

Less than three weeks ago, we welcomed our daughter into this world: Maeve Marie.

Maeve, in Irish folklore, was the warrior queen of Connacht. Connacht, of course, is home to County Mayo. And in County Mayo, my wife and I sat in a small Irish pub with our name painted above the door and lifted our glasses to life: past, present and future.

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