Either way, it seemed to be the most Irish of things to do, and it led to our most cultural encounter of the trip. It happened at Kelly’s Pub, which happens to be the name of the Irish pub that’s three blocks away from my parent’s house in San Diego. It didn’t look much different inside either.
So there we were, in a slightly more Irish Kelly’s Pub than the one in San Diego, when an energetic young man named Simon overheard us talking and asked where we were from. I said "California," because I usually say that now instead of "the United States." The United States drops bombs on other countries. Californians surf and make movies.
Simon asked if we surfed and we both said yes. He didn’t ask how often. He called himself a surfer too, and kindly invited us to sit down with him and his friends.
We agreed, grabbed our beers, and were led by Simon to a semi-circular booth where four heavily tattooed dudes were sitting around a table full of pint glasses. The closer I got, the more this rough group of dark-hooded-sweatshirt-wearing guys looked like ex-cons. Tattoos crept up their necks, down their hands, and covered their arms.
Had Simon led us into an organized trap? Were we about to be mugged? No, it turns out he was unintentionally giving me a brief lesson in prejudgment.
His group of criminal-looking friends turned out to be the nicest, most interesting, funny people we met the entire time. They provided us with a good dose of Irish wit, sarcasm, heavy drinking, and some Brit-bashing too. We soon were raising our glasses to "Cheers!" "Fock the Brits!" and an assortment of indecipherable, heavily accented mumbling.
"Your surnames, lads?" asked the most talkative one.
I said, "Carrillo."
"Oh, Spanish… Yeah, they stopped here in Connemara just up the rude after their Armada was def-eated. Then they decided to stay and fock all the Irish women! Haaa!"
Cheers and laughter came from the peanut gallery of guys, followed by a non sequitur "Fock the Brits" for good measure.
The talkative guy turned to John. "And yours?" he asked.
"O’Brien… John Thomas O’Brien."
"My fock!" the guy with the shaved head burst out, "You’re more focken Irish than me! Let me give you me passport for focksakes!" And he slammed his hand down violently on the table to punctuate the sarcasm.
After another round of drinks, learning about particular Irish laws (such as the grass-fed-beef only mandate) and some more Brit-bashing, the shaved head guy yelled out: "For focksake, enough about the mackerel-fannied Brits! It pisses me off so much! If I…"
He paused for dramatic effect and picked up the appetizer menu propped up in the middle of the table with both hands.
"…If this wasn’t laminated I’d" – and he started to rip it in half – "oh, it is laminated… Look at that. Focksakes – I’m stronger than I’d thought, lads."
I thought it was hilarious, but maybe you had to be there.
Anyways, we laughed at each other and drank more and by the end of the night, I was somehow saying "Fock the Brits!" with the same amount of enthusiasm and colonized resentment that they had.
Thankfully, though I didn’t realize it in the moment, those tattooed guys in Galway gave me my most Irish moment of the trip. Because when we returned to Dublin days later, it felt even less Irish than before. It reminded me of downtown San Diego again, minus the Mexican food and the pretty girls, but with much better Guinness.
So would I recommend to Americans a trip to Ireland?
Only if you have specific interests there (e.g., Cliffs of Moher, large cows, sheep, etc.), friends or family to visit, or would like to train for an upcoming Guinness drinking contest.