Ireland 1969: The Hebraic Persuasion

Stories from my first trip to Ireland: Part 3 of 5 – As I stood in the packed pub clutching a pint of Guinness, I spotted a guy across the room pointing at me while talking to his friends. Soon he was working his way through the crowd toward me. I braced for the worst.

It was the last night of the Puck Fair in Killorglin, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry in the southwest corner of Ireland. The Puck Fair is one of the oldest, longest running festivals in Ireland. While there are many different stories and speculations about its origin, they all seem to agree that a male goat named Puck was somehow involved.

John and Ralph were lost somewhere in the crowd, and Judy was on her way back to the US. After our near disaster on the back roads of Wexford, we had spent a few drama-free days in Cork before heading west looking for new adventures. We didn’t know about the Puck Fair, a four day, mid summer celebration of I’m-not-sure-what, involving lots of music, dancing, and most of all, drinking. We were just lucky.

So there I was watching this guy wade through the boisterous, inebriated crowd towards me. My paranoia rose as he drew near. It was a paranoid time in the US, marked by riots, assassinations and increasing tensions over the Vietnam War. To make matters worse, I was an unusually paranoid person, having been raised in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia where ethnic conflict and fistfights were not uncommon.

He finally reached me. He was smiling, but it wouldn’t have been the first time that a smiling man tried to slug me, so I was still on guard. With a lilt in his voice and a twinkle in his eye, he asked me, “pardon me sir, but do you mind me asking if you are of the Hebraic persuasion?” I was floored – not by a punch but by the charming audacity of the inquiry and the unmistakable good intentions behind it.

I relaxed while he explained. He had recently worked in New York for a couple of years and was showing off his new skills in ethnic identification for his friends. Channeling the spirit and voice of Don Rickles, I can imagine it going something like this — “I can spot a Jew across the room. See that guy over there?” Of course, I’m sure that the actual interaction was more polite than that.

We talked a bit more, about New York, about Ireland, about how wonderful it is too meet new people, especially when holding a pint of Guinness. After a few minutes, he turned and made his way back across the room to his friends to confirm that his ethnic spotting skills were still on the mark.

I returned to my Guinness. The pub was open late and the night was young. I still had a lot of drinking to do and many more people to meet.